Without an itemized statement of time, your attorney fee affidavit is incomplete

Probably once a month I attend a contested family court hearing in which the opposing counsel attempts to submit a fee affidavit without including an itemized statement of time. Most often I’ve been able to keep the family court from considering awarding the other party attorney’s fees if I object. Yet this behavior persists.

In 1986, the Court of Appeals, in Johnson v. Johnson, 288 S.C. 270, 277-78, 341 S.E.2d 811 (Ct.App. 1986), indicated that “vague estimations of time and labor devoted to the case and extent of legal services rendered” are insufficient to sustain an attorney fee award. In Johnson a one-half page statement of estimated time devoted to case, totaling 90 hours, coupled with vague testimony of attorney as to time and labor, found was insufficient to support award of attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeals remanded the matter back to the family court.

Twice Johnson has been cited by the appellate courts in published opinions to vacate a family court’s award of attorney’s fees. In Strickland v. Strickland, 297 S.C. 248, 376 S.E.2d 268 (1989), the Supreme Court reversed an award of attorney’s fees because the fee affidavit was insufficient for the family court to determine the fee award factors. In Griffith v. Griffith, 332 S.C. 630, 506 S.E.2d 526 (Ct.App. 1998), the Court of Appeals remanded the award of attorney’s fees because, [t]he conclusory information of total time expended and hourly rate charged which was set forth in the affidavit is insufficient to provide the evidentiary basis necessary to support the award, even with the wife’s testimony confirming the amounts actually paid.”

In South Carolina family court a fee affidavit is incomplete without an itemized statement of time. Failing to include such statements can be fatal to a fee claim. Objecting to incomplete fee affidavits can often prevent an award of attorney’s fees against one’s own client.

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