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Family law may order wealthier spouse to pay legal expenses

Divorce can be a challenging legal process, especially if one spouse has significantly more resources than the other. Alberta divorcees may be concerned about obtaining the same level of legal counsel as their wealthier exes. Under Canadian family law, the spouse with more money can be asked to pay the legal expenses for the spouse in need to ensure a fairer trial. This is referred to as interim disbursements.

Divorces can be complicated, and many experts may be needed on both sides to work out a divorce agreement under Alberta family law. Besides lawyers, chartered business valuators, accountants and actuaries may be used to vet the financial situation of the separating couple. When parties are not in an equal financial position, the wealthier one may be required to cover these costs in the interim.

The term "interim" is important in this case because a judge could order the recipient spouse to pay back the fees after the property division process has been settled. A recipient spouse therefore should not regard the funds as a windfall and select his or her counsel and any other professional resources with prudence and care. Still, substantial awards are fairly common, and in Alberta, fees as high at $500,000 have been ordered. These amounts can sometimes be advances, which are given with the understanding that they will be repaid in the future. In the end, this is left to the court's discretion.

Those undergoing a divorce with a wealthy spouse are often concerned about their prospects to pay for the necessary council and experts. However, family law gives Alberta divorcees an option to balance the scale with interim disbursements. It is a good idea for each party to speak with legal counsel about these options as they undergo the separation and divorce processes. 

Source: Financial Post, "Facing an uneven legal playing field? The court can order your wealthy spouse to pay your costs", Laur, Nov. 1, 2017

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