Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

Appeals 101: How do I Pay my Family Law Appeal Attorney’s Fees?

Family law cases are oftentimes stressful, lengthy, and expensive ordeals that can extend through trial court into the appellate courts.  But the legislature recognizes that such cases are unique, and thus it provides an avenue for seeking some relief from the cost of attorney’s fees for these cases. As part of our continuing Appeals 101 series, here’s the scoop on getting your ex to pay for your family law appeal attorney’s fees — whether you are appealing an equitable distribution, a child custody order, or any other issue related to your marriage dissolution or custody dispute.

Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

It can feel like you need a cart full of money to pay for your family law appeal. You may be able to get your ex to cover those costs.

The basis for attorney’s fees in family law appeals

Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, allows a party to ask a court to force the other side to “pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees” in some family law cases.  The purpose of the statute “is to ensure that both parties will have a similar ability to obtain competent legal counsel.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 699 (Fla. 1997).  “[I]t is not necessary that one spouse be completely unable to pay attorney’s fees for the trial court to require the other spouse to pay those fees.”  Id.

Section 61.16 also applies on appeal.  The statute states “In determining whether to make attorney’s fees and costs awards at the appellate level, the court shall primarily consider the relative financial resources of the parties, unless an appellate party’s cause is deemed to be frivolous.”  However, the court may also consider what are known as the Rosen factors (for the case from whence they came):  “the scope and history of the litigation; the duration of the litigation; the merits of the respective positions; whether litigation is brought or maintained primarily to harass (or whether a defense is raised mainly to frustrate or stall); and the existence and course of prior or pending litigation.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 700 (Fla. 1997).

Can I seek attorney’s fees before the appeal is over, or do I have to wait?

Another way family law fees are different is that, rather than having no choice but to wait until the end of the appeal to seek fees, there is a limited avenue for a party to seek fee assistance during the appeal.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.600(c)(1) says the trial court has continuing jurisdiction while an appeal is ongoing to enter orders awarding “temporary attorneys’ fees and costs reasonably necessary to prosecute or defend an appeal, or other awards necessary to protect the welfare and rights of any party pending appeal.”  This means that a party can ask the trial court for assistance from the other side to pay for fees as they are being incurred for the appeal.  In practice this procedure can sometimes be problematic, especially when the trial court does not have sufficient time to rule on such a request while the appeal is pending.  See Kasm v. Lynnel, 975 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008).

No matter the family law case, or whether a party has sought temporary fees with the trial court, the party that seeks an award of fees for the appeal should timely file a motion for fees with the appellate court under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.400(b).  Failure to do so may result in waiver of any ability to claim those fees later.  See Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130, 1131-32 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (“A trial court cannot award appellate attorney’s fees unless the appellate court has authorized such an award.”).  A motion under rule 9.400(b) must be filed no later than the time for service of the reply brief.

How long will I have to wait for an award of attorney’s fees?

Don’t be surprised if the appellate court decides not to ultimately decide your entitlement to fees, instead sending your motion to the trial court.  Unlike trial courts, appellate courts are simply do not have the capability to take evidence.  Evidence may be necessary to determine the parties’ relative financial positions and the other factors discussed above.  Consequently, the appellate court often relies on the trial court to take such evidence and make those determinations for it.  Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (identifying the many ways that one appellate court handles such motions).

Most importantly, once an appeal is over, the trial court can only consider appellate fees with permission from the appellate court, usually based on a ruling on a timely-filed 9.400(b) motion.  Even if you would otherwise deserve your fees on appeal under the statute or the Rosen factors, the trial court does not have the power to award them for your appellate efforts if the appellate court does not order it to do so. If you are in, or suspect you will be, in a family law appeal, contact us and we can help ensure that any rights you have to fees are properly raised and preserved.

 

Eleventh Circuit Rule Amendments Effective April 2, 2018

The Eleventh Circuit has made a handful of changes to its rules affecting tax practitioners, appellate mediation, and the ability of counsel coming in after an appeal has been initiated to file a replacement brief. Specifically, the rule amendments:

  • Now require the Tax Court to prepare exhibits in the same way any District Court would, by deleting a sentence in Eleventh Circuit Rule 11-3.
  • Remove the local setting out a procedure for late-filed counsel to file a replacement brief before the Court, former Rule 31-6, and all references to it.
  • Delete the requirement that parties serve “an original and one copy” of the Civil Appeal Statement, and remove the requirement of filing copies of portions of the record with the statement, since electronic filing and access to dockets makes serving extra copies or record documents moot.
  • Without a specific rule governing replacement briefs, does this mean the Eleventh Circuit will no longer allow replacement brief practice? The answer is unclear, but I would counsel clients not to count on it.

    The new rules became effective April 2, 2018.

    Eleventh Circuit Amended Rules Go Into Effect Today With Minor Changes

    Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Atlanta

    Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Atlanta

    Amendments go into effect today, August 1, 2017, for six of the Eleventh Circuit’s local rules.  The changes are minimal and, on the whole, positive for parties and practitioners alike.

    • 11th Cir. R. 22-3:  The use of the clerk’s form for filing “a second or successive habeas corpus petition or motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence” is no longer required, but merely encouraged in some cases.
    • 11th Cir. R. 31-1(d):  In addition to jurisdictional questions on main appeals, the rule now also contemplates potential jurisdictional questions on cross-appeals, expressly providing for postponement of the due date of the appellee-cross-appellant’s brief until the court determines that the appeal should proceed.
    • 11th Cir. R. 42-2(e):  A motion to set aside a dismissal of a civil appeal for failure to file a brief or appendix must now only be accompanied by the missing document, not both as previously required.
    • 11th Cir. R. 46-1:  Incorporates some of the content from FRAP 46, IOP 3 regarding attorney admission fees, and replaces specific payment information with references to 11th Cir. R. 46-3 and the court’s website.
    • 11th Cir. R. 46-2: deletes the specific dollar amount required for bar membership renewal, instead referencing the court’s website.
    • 11th Cir. R. 46-4: deletes payment information, instead referencing the court’s website.

    You can view the full text of the updated rules here [.pdf].  Give us a call if you have a federal appeal coming up–we’re experienced in navigating the numerous technicalities of the federal appellate rules.