divorce, divorce attorneys, family law attorneys, florida divorce
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Can you get a divorce for free?

In all honesty, a divorce can be expensive.  Clients often ask me for for guidance as they plan for the financial cost of their divorce. I read a report that estimated the average cost of a contested divorce to be $15,000, per party.  Based upon 13 years of experience, I would say that is an accurate figure for a contested divorce in Florida.  Uncontested divorces can be a fraction of that cost (like a 1/10 fraction).  Money is tight enough with the parties taking on all of the household bills that were previously shared, so uncontested divorces are always preferred. However, for various reasons, the parties are often unable to reach an agreement and file the divorce as an uncontested case.

How will these parties, who are already strapped for cash as they go about setting up separate households, pay the fee for legal services? And how will they pay for litigation costs, such as filing fees and depositions and the normal costs of a diligent representation? How much time will you need to take off from work in order to litigate the case, and what will that cost? There is no consistent answer to these questions.  Some of my clients clients simply pay with stored away cash.  Others borrow money from relatives, put the fees and costs on credit cards or have relatives front the costs.  However, if none of these options are available, can you force your spouse to pay for a contested divorce?

In Florida, attorney’s fees cannot be awarded unless authorized by statute or agreement of the parties. Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, governs the apportionment of attorneys fees and costs in divorce cases.  It states, in part:

(1) The court may from time to time, after considering the financial resources of both parties, order a party to pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees, suit money, and the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding under this chapter, including enforcement and modification proceedings and appeals….

This provision is designed to ensure that both parties have a similar ability to obtain fair representation for their divorce. This requires a two-step analysis.  First, Florida judges must consider the financial resources of the party requesting attorney’s fees as they determine whether there is a need to award attorney’s fees.  If a need exists, the court will proceed to the next step.  Secondly, the court will consider whether the other party has an actual ability to pay an attorney fee award.  If the requesting party meets both of these tests, he or she may be able to obtain attorney’s fees and costs from your spouse and force them to pay for a contested divorce.

Attorney’s fees and costs can be awarded at any point in the case.  The court can award suit monies to finance ongoing litigation at any point during the case, or the court can award attorney’s fees and costs at the end of the case.  In either event, you will likely have to pay for the cost of the divorce until such time as a judge forces the other party to pay your attorney’s fees and costs.


Andrew D. Wheeer is a family law, elder law and appellate attorney, and the founder of The Wheeler Firm, PA. Andrew only take cases in those practice areas in order to focus on those special areas of the law. With offices in Fort Walton Beach and Miramar Beach, Andrew represents clients throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties, and has represented more than 2,000 clients over the course of the past 15 years. Andrew attended the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, and graduated with a Juris Doctorate of law in 2002. While attending law school, Andrew was active in numerous legal writing opportunities, won awards for legal writing and was selected as a member of the Cumberland Law Review. Andrew was then accepted to the Cumberland Study Abroad Program and attended Durham University in Durham, England. Andrew also worked as a research assistant and intern for Chief Magistrate Judge John Ott in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Over the next 15 years, Andrew represented thousands of clients in divorce, adoption, custody modification proceedings, child support contempt actions, probate litigation, and counseled clients on elder law rights, including long-term care planning and general estate planning. Andrew believes clients desire representation from attorneys who have a thorough understanding of their specific legal issues. Therefore, after beginning his career as a general practitioner, Andrew chose to focus his career on a few specific areas of law - those that affect the family. He continues to concentrate on those areas today. Andrew regularly interacts with the public by speaking to groups of people on family and elder law topics, including long-term care planning and techniques to avoid probate litigation. In 2012, Andrew began teaching seminars on adoption law through the National Business Institute, providing guidance to other attorneys on proper procedures to secure adoptions of children. Andrew is married to Regina Wheeler, with whom he has a son, and the family resides in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Andrew serves as President of the Destin Kiwanis Club and is active in the local chambers of commerce.

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