Attorney fees in dissolution of marriage actions in Colorado are governed by C.R.S. §14-10-119 (award of fees based on financial circumstances) or C.R.S. §13-17-102 (groundless and frivolous awards). Under C.R.S. §14-10-119, awards of attorney fees are based upon the parties having a lack of financial parity such that the Court can order a financially advantaged spouse to pay some portion of the financially disadvantaged spouse’s “reasonable” attorney fees and costs. Just because one spouse earns more than another does not mean the Court will award attorney fees. As with everything else in dissolution of marriage actions, whether or not a Court will find lack of parity depends upon the facts in each case. The decision to enter an award lies within the discretion of the Court.
“Groundless and frivolous” attorney fees are sometimes assessed where a party acts in a stubbornly litigious, unreasonable or bad faith manner. Groundless and frivolous attorney fees are awarded without the necessity of finding a “lack of financial parity”. These fees are assessed where parties make claims that have no legal basis, where there are no facts to support the claim or where the litigation is expanded by improper conduct. These awards are rare but the fact that the sanction exists makes it important for litigants to present the factual basis for, and logic behind, their positions. While dissolution of marriage actions are often emotionally charged, litigants should try to avoid taking actions based upon purely emotional responses to events.