By Michael H. Gora
QI finally wrapped up my divorce case two weeks ago at mediation. My final hearing is scheduled for next week. I owe my attorney about $25,000. The money that I need to pay his bill is currently subject to a “freeze” or injunction in the cash portion of my brokerage account, but will be released to me as soon as the divorce is final.
Today, by e-mail I received a “Notice of Charging Lien” from my attorney, who also sent a copy of the notice to my stock broker. I called my guy at the stock broker’s office and he explained to me that he will not be able to release any money or shares to me until the lawyer’s bill is paid. This lien will tie up the whole $150,000 I have in my account.
I like my lawyer and he did a great job for me. I planned to pay him soon after the divorce as I could, but I have a lot of other bills to pay as well. I am about four months behind on his bill. I can’t believe he tied up all of my money. How can he do that?
A The right to use a charging lien to assist lawyers to collect their fees does not appear in any Florida Statute but has been established though a series of appellate decisions in the Florida Supreme Court and the State’s District Courts of Appeal.
If at the end of a case you are behind in your payments of legal fees and costs, and if you lawyer has obtained cash, stocks or bonds of other property for you, he or she can secure their payment by sending you the Notice of Charging Lien and sending a copy of the Notice to your banker or broker.
The Charging Lien cannot attach to other remedies in divorce like alimony or child support. The remedy is not available to your lawyer unless the two of you have signed a retainer agreement which gives the lawyer a right to file the lien. If you dispute the fairness of the amount of fees asked for, you can object at a court hearing.
If your lawyer’s notice includes your broker, bank it will tie up your funds until the fees are paid. If the amount that you have deposited is far more than the fees, your lawyer will usually agree to reserve a reasonable amount of money and release the rest. He or she can reserve the fees and costs you owe, plus additional fees for his time in collecting his bill.
Michael H. Gora has been certified by the Board of Specialization of The Florida Bar as a specialist in family and matrimonial law, and is a partner with Shapiro Blasi Wasserman & Gora P.A. in Boca Raton. Questions may be submitted to Mr. Gora at firstname.lastname@example.org.