When it comes to representing yourself in a family law matter, you can certainly save a significant amount of money, but you might also find yourself facing a challenging journey. I call this situation the “pro-se killer” when a pro-se litigant is unexpectedly ordered to pay the opposing party’s legal fees. It’s a tough spot to be in, not only because you’re navigating the complex legal landscape without an attorney, but also because you’re suddenly tasked with footing the bill for the opposing side’s lawyer. This predicament can be discouraging, potentially leading to prolonged litigation and leaving you stuck with the opposing attorney’s fees. However, there are strategies you can employ to tackle this formidable challenge.
One way to attack an award of attorney’s fees is to show that the fees were not “reasonable and necessary”.
Sufficient evidence must be presented to support an award of attorneys fees. The Texas Supreme Court has recently held that sufficient evidence must include, at a minimum the fallowing:
Evidence of (1) particular services performed, (2) who performed those services, (3) approximately when the services were performed, (4) the reasonable amount of time required to perform the services, and (5) the reasonable hourly rate for each person performing such services. And “General, conclusory testimony devoid of any real substance will not support a fee award.” Thus, mere testimony that the fees are “reasonable and necessary” will not suffice. Facts must be introduced into evidence. Contemporaneous billing records are not required to prove the requested fees are reasonable and necessary, but they “are strongly encouraged to prove the reasonableness and necessity of requested fees when those elements are contested.” See “Rohrmoos Venture v. UTSW DVA Healthcare, LLP, 578 S.W.3d 469, 483 (Tex. 2019).” In re S.W., 05-20-00582-CV (Tex. App. Jun 09, 2022).
In Rohrmoos, the leading Texas Supreme Court Case on the matter, appellee’s attorney testified that his fees of $800,000 were reasonable and necessary because he and his staff reviewed “‘millions’ of emails and review[ed] ‘hundreds of thousands’ of papers in discovery, more than forty depositions taken, and a forty-page motion for summary judgment.” The Texas Supreme Court concluded this testimony was “too general to establish that the requested fees were reasonable and necessary.” and the court concluded the attorney’s testimony lacked “the substance required to uphold a fee award.”.
Recently in , “IN THE INTEREST OF S.W., A CHILD, an appellate court struck down an attorney’s fee award which contained the fallowing supporting testimony from the party seeking attorney’s fees:
Father’s fees and expenses in the case totaled $152,007. The requesting attorney has practiced family law for twenty-three years and another attorney representing Father, has practiced family law for forty-one years. Each attorney charges $350 per hour and their legal assistant charges $125 per hour. The attorneys billed 348.5 hours for their work, and their assistant billed 180.25 hours. The attorney introduced billing records from some months of litigation but not others.
The Appellate Court held that:
Because Father failed to provide the information required by Rohrmoos, we conclude the evidence is insufficient to support the fee award and the trial court abused its discretion by awarding attorney’s fees. Accordingly, we sustain Mother’s fifth issue, we reverse the fees award, and we remand for further proceedings relating to Father’s request for attorney’s fees.
In re S.W., 05-20-00582-CV (Tex. App. Jun 09, 2022)
Therefore, if you ever find yourself facing a situation where the opposing party seeks attorney’s fees without presenting concrete and specific information about the billed activities, there is hope. You can fight these fees at both the trial and appellate levels, as long as you adhere to the standards set forth by the Texas Supreme Court.
At the Beveridge Law Firm, PLLC, we specialize in family law and are dedicated to helping fathers and non-custodial parents who want more time with their children. Our geographic focus is primarily Brazoria County and secondarily Galveston County, where we work with the family law courts, including the 461st and 300th district courts in Brazoria County, and the 306th district court and the Galveston County Court at law 1, 2, and 3 in Galveston County. My name is Ben Beveridge, and I’m the founder and owner of the Beveridge Law Firm, PLLC.
If you’re facing unwarranted attorney’s fees or other family law challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your rights and your children’s well-being are our top priorities. You can call our office at 281-407-0961 or submit your information through our contact form. We’re here to support you in your quest for equal access to your children and to help you navigate the complexities of family law. At the Beveridge Law Firm, PLLC, we stand with you in the fight for fairness and justice.