California's Unique Rules for Attorney's Fees in Divorce Cases

When a couple gets a divorce in California, disagreement over critical issues can cause a simple court proceeding to drag out for years. This can cause the parties to incur significant attorney’s fees over time.

Given the potential costs of legal representation in a divorce, it is not uncommon for one or more parties to represent themselves in a divorce proceeding. The technical terms for a party who represents themselves in court are “pro se litigant” and “in pro per” party.

However, it becomes problematic where only one party has the resources to hire an attorney while the other is forced to represent themselves due to their lack of financial resources.

Need-Based Attorney’s Fees

When a couple in a long-term marriage gets divorced, one spouse is typically seen as the primary income earner while the other spouse hasn’t worked a job in nearly a decade. In such cases, the risk one-sided litigation is higher because one spouse has an income while the other does not. This can negatively impact the outcome of a case because one party’s rights are protected by an advocate with professional legal training, while the other might not.

California laws are designed to mitigate the harmful effects of one-sided divorce litigation by allowing the more resourceful spouse to contribute to the other spouse’s legal representation. To “level the playing field,” California Family Code, Sections 2030 to 2032 were passed into law, authorizing courts to award attorney’s fees where there is a disparity in access to funds between the parties.

Evidence Supporting Requests for Need-Based Attorney’s Fees

When evaluating a request for need-based attorney’s fees, courts will examine the relative financial conditions of the parties. To determine the financial condition of a party, courts will use the parties’ Income and Expense Declarations (FL-150) and supporting documents, as well as their tax returns.

Awarding Attorney’s Fees from Property

Although the issue of attorney’s fees and costs is generally separate from property division issues, courts are authorized under California Family Code § 23032(c) to order payment out of any type of property, whether it constitutes community or separate property.

Awarding Attorney’s Fees as Sanctions for Improper Litigation

Sometimes the animosity between spouses becomes so elevated that the parties and their attorneys resort to dishonest and often retributive actions. California law will award attorney’s fees to sanction such behavior. Under California Family Code § 271, courts may award attorney’s fees to punish a party or their attorney for conduct that “furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation.” Furthermore, California Family Code § 20107 allows a party to recover attorney’s fees and costs if the opposing party fails to comply with preliminary disclosure requirements.

Call Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654

California divorce cases can be expensive. When the parties are not open to resolving their conflicts through compromise and mutual understanding, divorce litigation needlessly can drag out for years. However, a skilled family law attorney can make sure opportunities for settlement, compromise, and negotiation are not overlooked. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich, you can rely on us to provide you with sound, comprehensive legal advice to help ensure you obtain a fair result for your case. We are prepared to zealously advocate for your rights when compromise is not a realistic option. We have offices conveniently located in Temecula and Riverside.

Contact our office online to schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our legal team about your family law or divorce issues today.


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