The Fifth District Appellate Court recently affirmed that an ex-husband should pay over half of his former spouse's attorney fees from the divorce.
Justice Melissa Chapman delivered the Rule 23 decision on April 12, and Justices Thomas Welch and Judy Cates concurred.
The appellate court affirmed that Edgar Lloyd Myers IV should pay $20,000 of Crystal D. Myers’ attorney fees and that the trial court did not abuse its power by considering the evidence that Edgar Myers' income was significantly more than Crystal Myers' income.
Edgar Myers and Crystal Myers were married in 1997 and then had two children. Edgar Myers filed for a marriage dissolution 2009, and the two were able to conduct joint parenting. However, by 2011, Edgar Myers remarried and the relationship between the two worsened, the court document states. In addition to other petitions, both then sought sole legal custody.
Ultimately, Crystal Myers was awarded sole custody and established a visitation schedule for her ex-husband. The court also increased his monthly child support to $1,838 per month as well as half the cost of the children's extracurricular activities.
Crystal Myers then petitioned that Edgar Myers pay all of her attorney fees since she had financial restraints. She claimed she had already accumulated $35,033.85 in attorney fees and expected an additional $1,000 on top of an outstanding fee balance of $1,957.55
The trial court stated: “The court finds that numerous pleadings were filed and court appearances required that were not necessary. Considering this and the ability of the parties to pay fees, the court orders [Ed] to pay [Crystal's] attorney fee in the amount of $20,000."
After only the visitation schedule was modified in Edgar Myers' motion to reconsider, he sought the appeal.
In his petition, Edgar Myers claims that the court overstepped in its order because both his and Crystal Myers' financial situations were actually similar and she did not prove she was unable to pay the fees.
According to the decision: “Courts have found awards of attorney fees to be warranted in cases where there is a significant disparity in the incomes of the parties. Whether to award attorney fees and the amount of the fees to award are decisions entrusted to the discretion of the trial court.”
The appellate court did not agree with Edgar Myers' statements that the parties had similar financial circumstances since he made nearly twice as much as Crystal Myers and also had additional income from his working wife. He argued that when child support was taken into consideration, the income was much closer.
However, the court threw out the argument regarding child support.
“Child support payments represent the noncustodial parent's contribution to providing this support; they do not represent additional income for the custodial parent," the court stated. "Thus, we reject Ed's contention that the parties' financial circumstances were similar because he paid child support.”
Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order and concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because courts have the right to order attorney fees based on income disparities between parties.