In Washington State, each party is responsible for hiring and paying their own attorney, including any initial deposits as well as any subsequent bills. So this means that each spouse pays for the divorce based on their personal choice of attorney. However, the court does have the authority to allocate divorce costs between the parties.
Typically such an allocation would happen at either a motion hearing on temporary orders, or at trial.
For instance, one side might file a motion early in the case asking for rulings on various matters pending trial – i.e. how do we live between now and when we get to trial? This might include temporary parenting arrangements, temporary support, temporary restraining orders, etc.
If requested, the court may also grant one side a judgement for some attorneys fees (usually this does not cover all their fees). If so, this does not remove that person’s responsibility to his or her attorney to make sure the bill is paid, but it does order the other party to reimburse the first party or to pay some amount to the attorney.
Any funds actually paid to the spouse or their attorney help offset what the client owes or will need to pay to their attorney. If the other spouse does not pay, however, the client is still on the hook.
The general standard in Washington for awards of attorneys fees is need and ability to pay. This means that the court needs to find both:
- that the one spouse has the need for help with their legal expenses
- the other spouse has sufficient means to help.
Finding that a spouse has the ability to help would often mean finding that their income is significantly higher than the other party’s, and that their income exceeds what they need to meet their own needs.