Attorney fees in divorce proceedings

In Vakharwala v Vakharwala, a Supreme Court of Georgia case came up upon appeal. The issues that the husband appealed were orders of attorney fees, child custody modification and spousal support.  In addition, there was a prenuptial agreement the parties entered into prior to marriage. Mr. Vakharwala disputed the amount of attorney fees that were to be awarded to the wife.  He disputed the reason they were awarded and if they were the proper amount. In the prenuptial agreement the parties entered into prior to the marriage it stated that the parties waived any financial aid from the other party for spousal support. Therefore, Mr. Vakharwala appealed the attorney fee award to his wife during the divorce proceedings.  The appellate Court ruled in his favor as a result.  However, interestingly their ruling was based on the prenuptial agreement which waived spousal support.  A Georgia statute made it clear that attorney fees were often used as spousal support and were “intrinsic” to it function.  Normally, according to Georgia Code sections attorney fees are part of Spousal support.  Therefore any award to to a party of attorney fees was in fact spousal support.  So Mr. Vakharwala prevailed on appeal based on this Georgia statute. The wife should not have received the $60,000 in attorney fees because she had already received a temporary order for spousal support.

In California family Court besides awarding attorney fees as a sanction the attorney fees can be awarded as a way to help a divorce litigant hire an attorney when the other party is also represented by counsel during the divorce. This is a common practice in divorce proceedings to create a level playing field for all divorce parties.

The Court also did at the same time award wife sanctions for the husbands conduct that abused the discovery process and delayed the divorce proceedings.  Thus the wife prevailed in getting attorney fees through the other Georgia statute enabling a party to be awarded monetarily for the abuse of the court system by the other party.  Any prenuptial agreement that stated that there was a a waive of attorney fees under a normal setting would be ignored in this scenario.

In awarding spousal support in most divorce proceedings attorney fees can be the method of receiving support. This Georgia case makes if very clear that spousal support and attorney fees can be one and the same. The Court in Georgia also made it clear that it would honor the words of the prenuptial agreement.  The validity of the prenuptial agreement were never at issue.  The Court could have decided the fate of the prenuptial agreement and decided to undo it if there were issues of unconscionability.

As far as the child custody issue, The appellate Court did not reverse the award of child custody to the mother who was awarded primary physical custody.  She was permitted to move the child to Arizona against the fathers wishes.  The appellate court ruled that there was enough evidence presented by the trial Court for its ruling that it could not overturn the decision it made in awarding custody to the mother.