John L. Bailey, Pittsburgh, for appellant in No. 313.
Robert Raphael, Pittsburgh, for appellee in No. 313.
John L. Bailey, Pittsburgh, for appellant in No. 591.
Frederick N. Frank, Pittsburgh, for appellee in No. 591.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Van der Voort, J., concurs in the result. Jacobs and Price, JJ., dissent.
[ 242 Pa. Super. Page 359]
Appellant contends that the lower court's award of alimony pendente lite and counsel fees was erroneous because 1) the award of counsel fees to appellee was excessive; 2) husband and wife continued to reside in the same house and appellant did not willfully deny his wife the necessities of life; 3) the lower court miscalculated the appellant's net spendable income; and 4) the lower court required appellant to pay all residential, medical, dental, automobile, and country club expenses attributable to appellee rather than impose a cash order.
Appellee filed an action in divorce against appellant on September 10, 1975. While the divorce suit was pending,
[ 242 Pa. Super. Page 360]
the parties maintained a common residence. Appellant paid all the expenses on the residential property and all his wife's automobile, country club, medical and dental expenses. Moreover, appellant gave appellee $100 a week; she used this money to operate the household. On October 2, 1975, appellee filed a petition for alimony pendente lite, counsel fees and expenses, and a hearing was held on October 29, 1975. On November 24, 1975, the trial court ordered appellant to pay appellee $1,800 per month and directed him to continue to pay the medical, dental, automobile, and country club expenses incurred by appellee, as well as the expenses spent on the common residence. The trial court estimated that the total alimony pendente lite owed by appellant could amount to $2,300 per month. Moreover, the court ordered appellant to pay his wife $1,500 for preliminary counsel fees. This appeal followed.
Appellant's first contention is that the lower court's award of $1,500 counsel fees was excessive. Appellant alleges that the standard practice in Allegheny County is for the trial court to enter an award of preliminary counsel fees in the amount of $200. The legal principles governing the award of counsel fees are well-defined and straightforward. Reasonable counsel fees are to be paid a spouse in order to "promote the administration of fair and impartial justice by placing the parties on a par in defending their rights." Moore v. Moore, 198 Pa. Super. 349, 354, 181 A.2d 714, 716 (1962). When a wife seeks counsel fees in an action to gain alimony pendente lite, the trial court should consider the following factors: the value of counsel's services, the wife's necessities, the husband's ability to pay, and the character, situation, and surroundings of the parties. Merlin v. Merlin, 203 Pa. Super. 16, 198 A.2d 362 (1964); Cox v. Cox, 187 Pa. Super. 177, 144 A.2d 458 (1958); Campana v. Campana, 186 Pa. Super. 472, 142 A.2d 169 (1958); Morgan v. Morgan, 171 Pa. Super. 625, 91 A.2d 295 (1952).
[ 242 Pa. Super. Page 361]
A trial court possesses a wide range of discretion in fixing an appropriate amount of counsel fees; an appellate court will not modify a lower court's award unless there has been a manifest abuse of discretion. Kayaian v. Kayaian, 223 Pa. Super. 103, 297 A.2d 136 (1972); Wargo v. Wargo, 191 Pa. Super. 10, 155 A.2d 423 (1959). The record indicates that appellee's counsel informed the court that the services he performed prior to and including the hearing would require a fee of $1,055. Preliminary counsel fees for anticipated legal services were also requested. The trial court stated, and appellant does not deny, that appellee's counsel is a well respected practitioner in the field of domestic relations. In light of the services already rendered, the ...