The court in your family law case has received a request to order you to pay attorney’s fees for the other party. Is the court allowed to do that? And if they are allowed, what kind of evidence is required to prove the amount? The Dallas Court of Appeals explored this issue in a recent decision and stated that reasonable attorney’s fees may be awarded. The Court also discussed the factors that it considers when calculating attorney’s fees.
When a suit affects the parent-child relationship, courts have the discretion to award attorney’s fees to a party. Suits affecting the parent-child relationship include matters like child support, possession, and conservatorship or custody. Awards of attorney’s fees can be challenged on appeal. The appeals court will analyze the award based on the “abuse of discretion” standard. This lenient standard is difficult to overcome because the appeals court can look at many factors, any or all of which can show that the trial court was not arbitrary. Most of the time, these factors will support the original award or attorney’s fees and the award will be upheld.
Factors to consider in determining the reasonableness of attorney’s fees are: (1) the time and labor required based on the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the skill required to perform the legal service properly; (2) the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will keep the lawyer from taking other cases and employment; (3) the fee customarily charged in the local area for similar legal services; (4) the amount of money involved in the case and the results obtained; (5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship between the client and lawyer; (7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer performing the services; and (8) whether the fee is a set fee or if it is contingent on results obtained or if before the legal services have been rendered there is uncertainty about the ability to collect.
The court will not require evidence about every single factor, and may find that an award is reasonable even if it is based on just a few of the factors. Some of the factors will be supported by exhibits or evidence generated by the attorney claiming the fees. An attorney is permitted to testify about his or her own fees in court, which at first may seem conclusory. Conclusory testimony is testimony that might be classified as self-serving, unreliable, unfair, or not very convincing. However, testimony about attorney’s fees can be questioned by the opposing attorney, who likely has an understanding of the time and effort involved in the case. The opposing attorney can effectively question the first attorney about his or her claims if the reasonableness of the claims is really in dispute. Because the claims can be questioned and analyzed for reasonableness by the opposing attorney, courts will allow the attorney to testify about his or her own fees.