Articles Posted in counsel fees

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Despite the recent heat wave, Fall has arrived. Besides the presumably cooler weather, when the calendar hits September, we can always look forward to a number of things – school starts, rush hour traffic resumes, shorter days, etc. However, for us lawyers September brings with it the annual amendments that have been approved by our Supreme Court to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey. Unlike last year, a number of these recent Rule Amendments directly impact upon Family Part Practice. A number were in response to statutory changes that recently went into effect. In light of the number involved, I will summarize and discuss these Amendments over the course of several blog posts. Court-Rules-2018-300x300

First, there have been a number of significant changes to Rule 5:3-5, the rule dealing with attorney’s fees, retainer agreements and withdrawal of counsel in Family Actions. Under Rule 4:42-9, an allowance for the awarding of attorneys fees in Family Actions is expressly authorized. Rule 5:3-5 set forth the procedural and substantive prerequisites and requirements for such fee applications, not only referring to the factors enumerated in the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC 1.5(a)), but the provisions of Rule 4:42-9(b), (c), and (d).  Rule 4:42-9 (b) requires that all applications for the allowance of fees be supported by an affidavit of services addressing the factors in the RPC 1.5. Notwithstanding the fact that reference to this Rule was included already, the Supreme Court felt it prudent to repeat the language of Rule 4:42-9 (b) almost verbatim as new subsection Rule 5:3-5(d), and thereby avoid any doubt that all such applications for the allowance of fees be supported by an affidavit of services. As a result, former subsection (d) became subsection(e), dealing with withdrawal from representation.

In actuality, the most significant amendment to Rule\5:3-5 was the addition of subparagraph (e)(3) dealing with the handling of motions to withdraw from a procedural or scheduling basis. Often a breakdown in the attorney/client relationship occurs during the midst of the divorce litigation. Sometimes this occurs when there are other disputed issues that are being brought before the court by way of motion. The problem which often arose was how these substantive disputes would or could be addressed where a breakdown in one party’s attorney/client relationship had also lead to an application to withdraw or to be relieved being filed.  The new Rule 5:3-5(e)(3) attempts to address this predicament. This Rule provides that upon the filing of a motion or cross motion to be relieved as counsel, the court, absent good cause, shall sever all other relief sought by the motion or cross motion from the motion to be relieved as counsel, and whereby the court would first decide the motion to be relieved and, in the order either granting or denying the motion to be relieved include a scheduling order for the filing of responsive pleadings and the return date for all other relief sought in the motion or cross motion. This is obviously designed to avoid situations where the party and/or counsel are forced to address substantive matters when there has been a apparent breakdown of relationship and/or conflict between a party and his or her attorney at that juncture.

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For attorneys and litigants alike, the legal fees attendant to the handling of a divorce matter are an important consideration. When it comes to legal fees, time is money. Because our Rules of Court prohibit the handling of divorce cases on a contingent fee basis, legal services are billed based upon the actual time spent working on the case at an hourly rate and charged against an initial retainer amount to be paid by the client. When prospective client asks how much in legal fees the divorce will cost, I explain that there are too many variables to give a precise estimate, including the number and complexity of the issues involved, the level to which those issues are contested, the reasonableness of the other spouse and/or attorney in regards to their positions, cooperation and/or course of conduct during the process, and the extent litigation or court involvement is needed to resolve those issues. Continue reading

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There is a saying among realtors that the first offer is usually the best offer. Why is that?  Because the first offer is made when the property is freshly on the market. When real estate sits buyers6a3146dbdf81597192112ac03d77c7e4-300x200 become suspicious. There is also the cost of holding the property to factor in.  The first offer likely saves the seller from incurring more tax, mortgage, utility and upkeep costs. There is a lot to be said about the psychological benefits of a fast deal as well. No worry, no uncertainty, no sleepless nights. Continue reading

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Pursuant to New Jersey statutes, and a common term in lawyers’ retainer agreements, is often a provision for the attorney to retain what is referred to as a charging lien in the assets of the marital estate to allow an attorney to be paid for legal services. Usually the existence of attorney’s right to a charging lien is merely academic as matters glide through the system. Occasionally, however, issues arise regarding an attorney’s fee which require court intervention. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:13-15, an attorney is entitled to a lien against a marital assets in controversy for the purpose of the payment of legal fees. The attorney’s lien is an inchoate right that attaches to the assets of the marital estate upon the completion of the ttorney’s involvement in the matter. Continue reading

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One consideration that comes up in almost every divorce action is the question of whether a spouse can request that the other spouse pay their counsel fees. Awards of counsel fees in New Jersey matrimonial cases are completely up to the discretion of the judges, and the Appellate Division generally will not reverse such decisions unless the judge abused his/her discretion. Eaton v. Grau, 368 N.J. Super. 443, 454 (App. Div. 2006). Judges’ discretion is not entirely unfettered, however, because judges still must address the standards set forth in the statutes, rules and case law. Continue reading