New Jersey law allows the award of attorneys’ fees in divorce and other family actions in certain circumstances. Courts looks at several factors including the parties’ behavior in terms of the positions they take in litigation. Acting in bad faith in pursuing or defending an action can have a significant influence on a court’s decision to award attorneys’ fees in favor of one party and against the other party. Thus, divorcing spouses should be mindful of their legal positions and their basis to pursue same. Otherwise, they risk the burden of paying not only their own attorneys’ fees, but their spouse’s attorneys’ fees as well.
An example of this principle is the recent case of Sampson v. Sampson. The dispute involved a couple who signed a separation agreement prepared by the husband. At trial, the Wife asked the Court not to enforce the separation agreement because she needed to leave the house due to an “extremely hostile environment.” The trial court did not find the agreement binding, and awarded the Wife alimony for ten years, equitable distribution of the marital property, and attorneys’ fees.
The trial judge found that the husband in Sampson did not provide credible testimony about his finances. Moreover, the trial judge found that the husband demonstrated “extreme bad faith, … used the court system improperly, testified untruthfully, and desired to ‘destroy’ the wife through his apparent efforts to conceal his income in order to avoid paying spousal support.” Based on his behavior, the husband was ordered to pay the wife’s attorneys’ fees. The Appellate Division agreed.
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