Where the plaintiff-Father’s monthly income is roughly three times the defendant-Mother’s, a sizable portion of Father’s expenses were for incidentals, and an award of attorney’s fees, while affecting Father’s standard of living, would have a devastating impact on Mother’s standard of living, the family court properly ordered Father to pay a large portion of Mother’s attorney’s fees.
We affirm the family court’s order requiring Father to pay $222,003 in attorney’s fees, $20,297.18 for the guardian ad litem’s outstanding balance, and $5,250 in GAL fees Mother had already paid. We reverse the family court’s order requiring these payments to be made within 90 days and remand to the family court to establish a payment plan.
Although Father prevailed on some minor issues, the ultimate result of this litigation substantially benefitted Mother, who could have lost custody of her children.
Given that possibility and Father’s uncooperativeness and apparent intent to make this litigation more contentious, it was reasonable for mother’s counsel to spend 1,100 hours on this case. Father’s counsel spent approximately 1,500 hours on the case, and his attorney’s fees were more than $110,000 higher than hers.
We agree with the family court that Mother’s counsel’s compensation would be contingent upon an award of attorney’s fees because Mother lacks sufficient financial resources. Mother has already taken loans from numerous friends and nearly depleted her retirement funds to pay for this litigation.
The complexity and contentiousness of this case also support the GAL’s $44,987.87 fees and costs. Since Father was in a better position to pay, we affirm the family court’s order requiring Father to pay the outstanding balance and to reimburse Mother for the amount she had already paid the GAL.
However, given Father’s balance sheet, it is difficult to see how 90 days was a realistic amount of time for Father to assemble approximately $250,000. The family court was in a difficult position. Here we have a litigant who haled his former spouse into court and who engaged respected lawyers to vigorously represent him, requiring his ex-wife to do likewise. His financial declaration suggests he can hardly afford his own fees, yet he had no problem incurring those fees, and there is a years-long pattern of him routinely finding money to fund repeated lawsuits against his ex-wife.
Nevertheless, three years after its initial order, we remand to the family court to establish a payment plan.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
Couch v. Couch (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-040-20, 13 pp.) (Blake Hewitt, J.) Appealed from the Family Court in Jasper County (James Fraley, J.) Elizabeth Dalzell for appellant; Pamela Wray Blackshire and Bree Kennedy for respondent. S.C. App.