The Texas legislature has responded to the Texas Supreme Court’s recent and controversial opinion in Tedder v. Gardner Aldrich LLP, by enacting House Bill 1366 to clarify a trial court’s power to award attorney’s fees in a suit for divorce.   

The Tedder opinion made waves in the family law community by determining that attorney’s fees in a divorce are not necessaries (for which one spouse is typically liable for as support the other), thereby calling into question a trial court’s ability to award fees at all in a divorce. Judges and family law attorneys alike contemplated the potentially monumental impact this decision would have on cases going forward – some believing that the opinion completely eliminated a trial court’s ability to award attorneys’ in a divorce   

In the midst of this confusion, the Texas Legislature quickly came to the rescue, adding subsection (c) to Section 6.708 of the Texas Family Code, which provides that for all cases filed on or after September 1, 2013, trial courts across this State may award reasonable attorney’s fees in a suit for divorce: 

In a suit for dissolution of a marriage, the court may award reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. The court may order the fees and expenses and any postjudgment interest to be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in the attorney’s own name by any means available for the enforcement of a judgment for debt.”

 While the statue is a step in the right direction, aspects of a party’s entitlement to attorney’s fees in a suit for divorce remain murky. The statue leaves the discretion to award fees with the trial court, so attorney’s fees awards are far from certain and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Also, it does not specify whether fees must be awarded from the community estate, leaving open the possibility for argument over whether fees can be awarded from a spouse’s separate estate (and the constitutional implications of divesting separate property).

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.