Winning Attorney’s Fees in Your Colorado Family Law Case

         It is well-known that family law cases can be difficult, whether it is a divorce, a custody issue, or a post-decree change.  One challenge that makes it more difficult is when one party to the case has a lot more money than the other.  Another issue is if one party is raising claims that have no merit or are just intended to harass.  Well, Colorado has developed a fix – awarding attorney’s fees.

The statutes

In Colorado, two statutes are involved in the awarding of attorney fees: Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) 14-10-119 and 13-17-102.  These two statutes cover instances where there is a significant disparity in income or when one party is filing meritless claims.

C.R.S. 14-10-119

C.R.S. 14-10-119 is a very straight-forward statute which reads in relevant part that:

[t]he court . . . after considering the financial resources of both parties, may order a party to pay a reasonable amount for the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding under this article and for attorney’s fees . . ..[1]

Put simply, if one party has substantially more resources than the other, the court can order the party with the higher resources to pay the attorney’s fees for the party with the lesser resources.  The purpose of this law is to place both parties on equal financial footing, and to “apportion[] costs and fees of an action equitably among” them.[2]

C.R.S. 13-17-102

There is another series of situations in which attorney’s fees may be ordered by the courts.  The first is if a party files a case which “lacked substantial justification.”[3] Lacking substantial justification is defined as “substantially frivolous,[4] substantially groundless,[5] or substantially vexatious.”[6],[7] The same is also true for any actions intended to delay proceedings or harass the other party.[8]  However, if the party filing such claims is unrepresented, the court will not award attorney’s fees until it specifically finds “that the [unrepresented] party clearly knew or reasonably should have known that his action or defense, or any part thereof, was substantially frivolous, substantially groundless, or substantially vexatious.”[9]  Additionally, if “a voluntary dismissal is filed as to any claim or action within a reasonable time after the attorney or party filing the dismissal knew, or reasonably should have known, that he would not prevail on said claim or action,” no attorneys fees will be awarded.[10]  Put simply, if the parties withdraws the meritless action “within a reasonable time,” the court will likely not award fees in that case.

If you are facing a family law matter, don’t go it alone.  At the Saroyan Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations and all of our family law matters are handled on a flat-fee basis, so there are never any surprises.  And if there is a basis to claim attorney’s fees, we will happily file the claim on your behalf.  So, give us a call today and see how we can help.

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[1] C.R.S. 14-10-119.  Such an award can “include[] sums for legal services rendered and costs incurred prior to the commencement of the proceeding or after entry of judgment.”  Id.

[2] In re Marriage of Anthony-Guillar, 207 P.3d 934, 944 (Colo. App. 2009) (holding that “the primary purpose for awarding attorney fees in a marriage dissolution case is to equalize the parties’ financial positions.”).

[3] C.R.S. 13-17-102(4).

[4] “A claim or defense is frivolous if [there is] no rational argument based on the evidence or law in support of that claim or defense.” W. United Realty, Inc. v. Isaacs, 679 P.2d 1063, 1069 (Colo. 1984).

[5] “Similarly, a claim or defense is groundless if the allegations in the complaint, while sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, are not supported by any credible evidence at trial.” W. United Realty, Inc. v. Isaacs, 679 P.2d 1063, 1069 (Colo. 1984).

[6] C.R.S. 13-17-102(4)

[7] “A claim is vexatious if brought or maintained in bad faith to annoy or harass another.”  Consumer Crusade, Inc. v. Clarion Mortg. Capital, Inc., 197 P.3d 285, 289 (Colo. App. 2008).

[8] C.R.S. 13-17-102(4).

[9] C.R.S. 13-17-102(6).

[10] C.R.S. 13-17-102(5).


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