Court can't Disgorge Fees Already Paid

Panel: Past payments to lawyers no longer ‘available’ to court 

david_adams_thumb.jpgjamie_fisher_thumb.jpgA divided state appeals panel on Wednesday ruled that a court cannot force a divorce attorney to disgorge already-earned money to an adversary when neither of the litigating parties can afford to pay the case’s legal expenses.

Under the state’s divorce law, a court can order a cash-strapped party to cover some of the other side’s expenses using “available funds.” It’s a provision meant to prevent a wealthier spouse from using his or her greater control of money as a way to hinder the disadvantaged party’s ability to litigate the case.

In the divorce case of Heather Altman and Jeffrey Block, a Cook County judge in July 2014 determined that “available funds” included a $16,000 sum Block had paid to his former divorce attorney, Steven D. Gerage, for services he had rendered.

Gerage objected, refusing to pay the $16,000 to his former client’s ex-spouse, and he was found in contempt by Cook County Associate Judge David E. Haracz in September 2014.

He appealed the contempt order. The 1st District Appellate Court sided with Gerage, finding the court cannot disgorge him of funds that he has earned and then used.

The opinion is at odds with a 2015 ruling from the Elgin-based 2nd District Appellate Court, In re Marriage of Squire, 2015 IL App (2d) 150271, which found that language in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act does allow the court to disgorge attorney’s fees for services rendered.

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