Show Me The Money: Court Costs In Family Law

Court Costs In Family Law

The bottom line.

It’s one of the most important considerations in any family court application. If successful, legal costs could be awarded in your favour, payable by your ex-spouse. If unsuccessful, the burden of legal costs could fall on you. When talking bottom line, it’s essential to understand how costs are determined so there are no surprises if/when you go to court.

Court costs are discretionary, meaning it is in the hands of the Justice or Judge presiding at your hearing. Generally, costs are awarded to the ‘successful party’ and serve as a disciplinary action to emphasize the reasonableness of parties’ positions. If you are an unreasonable party, it is likely costs will be awarded against you.

So, what exactly are we talking about? Costs are all the reasonable and proper expenses you are accountable for in a proceeding, or for appearance as a party to any proceeding. Simply put, they are intended as repayment for expenses incurred as a result of the litigation. There are two classifications of costs: party & party costs and solicitor-client costs. Party & party costs are the most commonly awarded and are payable by one litigant to the other. In the Court of Queen’s Bench, costs awarded are typically pursuant to the scale set out in the Alberta Rules of Court.

Party & party costs do not cover all legal fees incurred and typically only act as a partial indemnity. However, as alluded to earlier, the more unreasonable a party, the higher the potential court costs award. For example, if your ex-spouse is unreasonably withholding financial disclosure or refusing consent for a vacation with children, it is likely the court will grant you costs equal to, or in more extreme circumstances, a greater amount than specified in the Rules of Court. Of course, the rule of reasonability applies both ways – if you’re the one stepping over the line, be prepared to pay.

The second costs classification aligns with a common question we get at Coach My Case: “How do I get my ex to pay my legal fees?” Solicitor-client costs are awards that generally provide full repayment of fees – however, they are typically granted only when there has been “reprehensible, scandalous or outrageous conduct” from the paying party, translated as some form of major wrongdoing or deception of the court. The solicitor-client cost award amounts are often what a lawyer could fairly charge for the presentation of the family law or divorce application that day

So, what’s the bottom line?

If you go to court, and are successful, you may be rewarded for attending by way of costs. Alternatively, if you are unreasonable or bring unnecessary applications before the court, you should be prepared to have costs levelled against you. The court views itself as the last resort in solving disputes, and awarding costs is designed to discipline parties, discourage unreasonable actions, and prevent applications without merit. We strongly suggest careful consideration before deciding on litigation as the best option for you. Seeking family law mediation or alternative dispute resolutions can ensure that ‘show me the money’ doesn’t become ‘I should’ve avoided court’.

Got questions about a potential family law application and the associated risks? Feel free to contact us at Coach My Case. Our Legal Navigator can show you the best way forward.