If you find yourself in a divorce situation and you cannot afford an attorney but your spouse can, is it possible to ask the court’s help to “level the playing field”? Generally speaking, under California family law, you may be entitled to attorney’s fees based on your need and on your spouse’s ability to pay. Depending on circumstances, your spouse may be required by the court to pay all or part your attorney’s fees. In fact, Section 2030 of the Family Code states that “the court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including access early in the proceedings, to preserve each party’s rights by ordering, if necessary based on the income and needs assessments, one party… to pay to the other party, or to the other party’s attorney, whatever amount is reasonably necessary for attorney’s fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.”
Related Read: Get “unbundled legal services” to Save on Attorney Fees.
Along with the request to the court, evidence must be submitted to the satisfaction of the judge which establishes the amount of the fees along with the necessary costs, their reasonableness, your need for an award, your relative inability to pay them yourself and the ability of your spouse to pay them. Here, Section 2030 of the Family Code states that
“When a request for attorney’s fees and costs is made, the court shall make findings on whether an award of attorney’s fees and costs under this section is appropriate, whether there is a disparity in access to funds to retain counsel, and whether one party is able to pay for legal representation of both parties. If the findings demonstrate disparity in access and ability to pay, the court shall make an order awarding attorney’s fees and costs. A party who lacks the financial ability to hire an attorney may request, as an in pro per litigant, that the court order the other party, if that other party has the financial ability, to pay a reasonable amount to allow the unrepresented party to retain an attorney in a timely manner before proceedings in the matter go forward.”
Divorces and similar cases are more likely to settle quickly when the parties have equal access to resources. The court adheres to the concept that the “playing field should be level” in the divorce process and that both spouses should have relatively equal opportunity to litigate issues. Thus, the court facilitates access to counsel even at the beginning stages of the proceedings through attorney fee awards in order to help equalize the power imbalance of the parties. If it happens you don’t have access to any funds with which to pay for an attorney, but your spouse does, the court may order your spouse to pay a reasonable amount in advance for your attorney’s fees so you can protect your interests and prepare for the trial.
If you want to find out more about attorney fee awards as well as about other ways to get affordable legal services, call me at (805)497-7474 and let’s talk. You can also reach me here.