The thought of a divorce, let alone how you’re ever going to pay for it, is enough to cause a migraine. Thankfully, you can ask the court for an award of attorney’s fees and costs under Family Code sections 2030 and 2032 – and make your spouse pay your fees and costs – where the making and amount of the award are “just and reasonable under the relative circumstances of the parties.” Sections 2030/2032 thus enshrine California’s strong public policy of “leveling the playing field.”
You Don’t Need to Be Broke to Get a Need-Based Fee Award
The making of a fee award is “just and reasonable” if you are in “need” and your spouse can pay both parties’ fees and costs .The concept of “need,” however, is relative. Thus, your “need” arises not because you’re poor but because your spouse’s access to funds is greater than yours. The finding of a disparity in access to funds requires a comparison of your respective incomes and earning capacities, assets and debts, ages and health, and other factors.
The concept of relative need means you don’t need to be broke to make your spouse pay your attorney’s fees and costs. In fact, you can be quite affluent. The Family Code’s policy of “leveling the playing field” is so strong that the Court of Appeal in Marriage of O’Connor affirmed the trial court’s award of $450,000 in attorney’s fees (after an earlier award of $250,000) to a husband whose assets totaled $2 million – the reason being that his wife’s assets totaled $40 million.
Your Don’t Even Need to Win to Get a Need-Based Fee Award
Now suppose you ‘lose’. You might be surprised to learn that such a thing doesn’t necessarily leave you on the hook for your spouse’s attorney’s fees or costs. In Marriage of Hublou, Mr. Hublou successfully moved to reduce his spousal support obligation to Mrs. Hublou. He then argued that she should have to pay his attorney’s fees because he won. The trial court not only disagreed with Mr. Hublou; it ordered him to pay Mrs. Hublou’s $5,000 in attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed.
The reason for that seemingly strange result in Marriage of Hublou is simple: sections 2030/2032 authorize fee awards based on whether you need them. The strong public policy of “leveling the playing field” means you can ‘lose’ and not have to pay your spouse’s fees or costs. Conversely, your spouse can win and still have to pay your fees or costs.
Consult with a skilled Los Angeles family law attorney before you go it alone. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that hiring an attorney can save you money in the long run.
For more information about filing for divorce in California, contact the expert family lawyers at Walzer Melcher LLP today.