Appealing Attorney Fee Awards In Family Law Cases

By Florida Family Law Appeals Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias 

Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2005

AAA Family Law Can Represent You In Family Law Appeals Anywhere In Florida


The Widespread Use of Attorney Fee Awards in Family Law Cases

Many final judgments in family law cases contain awards of attorney’s fees to one party.  And virtually all final judgments in family law at least consider the award of attorney fees.

This is because almost all types of family law cases, such as divorce, child custody or support, paternity, alimony or post-judgment modifications, allow the trial court to order one party to pay for part or all of the other party’s attorney’s fees, if certain facts are established. These are three important principles appellate courts rely upon to make their decisions regarding awarding attorney’s fees to one of the two parties:


What Makes It Possible to Appeal Attorney Fee Awards

The Trial Court Does Not Address the Issue of Awards for Attorney's Fees

If the trial court does not even address the issue of awards of attorney's fees, the appellate court will reverse its final judgment if either party requests the award. I recently retained an individual whose former attorney requested an award of his attorney’s fees in both his pleading and at the trial. Curiously, the trial court’s final judgment omitted any reference to attorneys’ fees.

This omission constituted a reversible error. Fortunately for my client, the trial court subsequently scheduled a hearing to determine both my client’s entitlement to attorney’s fees, and if applicable, the amount that should be awarded.

Therefore if your trial judge simply ignores your request for attorney’s fees in its final judgment, you should strongly consider filing an appeal. Keep in mind, however, that the trial court is permitted to “reserve ruling” on the issue of awarding attorney’s fees This means scheduling a future hearing about the issue This is what the trial judge in my client’s case ultimately did.

There Are No Factual Findings to Support the Trail Court's Decision

When the trial court does award or deny attorney’s fees it must include specific factual findings that support its decision. A mere denial or granting of attorney’s fees in the final judgment, without further explanation, is not enough.

Typically, the trial court will cite the disparate incomes and financial resources as the basis for the award of attorney’s fees. However, a trial court may also award attorney’s fees as a sanction for the opposing party filing frivolous motions or needlessly delaying the litigation. A brief explanation for either finding will satisfy an appellate court.

There Has Been Abuse of Discretion By The Trial Court

When reviewing the actual amount of attorney’s fees that are awarded, an appellate court will only reverse the trial court if it determines that an “abuse of discretion” occurred. This essentially means that no reasonable person could agree with the trial court’s determination.

Admittedly, this is a high standard to meet. Still, I have reviewed several appellate opinions that have reversed appeal court rulings on attorney fee awards on this basis. Most commonly in these cases, insufficient testimony or evidence about the attorney’s work on the case was presented. Thus, if you see an attorney’s fee amount that was seemingly pulled “out of thin air”, it probably is reversible.

How We Can Help

If you believe that an attorney’s fee award that you are ordered to pay in a family law cases could be reversible, I encourage you to call AAA Family Law at 407-260-6001 and schedule an initial consultation. 

At the consultation you will explain your case and I will outline to you if and how an appeal should be attempted.  Then, I will quote you a flat attorney retainer fee for my serves, not an hourly rate whose total you cannot predict.

Our retainer fees for family law appeals of final orders in Florida range between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on their level of complexity.  For non-final orders they are between $2,000 and $4,000.