Understanding California Needs-Based Attorney Fees Orders
The California Family Court follows Family Codes sections 2030-2032 to grant an order related to attorney fees. The court makes an award of the fees and costs of hiring an attorney only after it has determined that a party in a divorce case is unable to pay it himself or herself.
Generally, the spouse with the lesser income is awarded an attorney fees order. The court considers it a ‘needs-based’ award. The higher earning spouse pays the costs of hiring a lawyer to the lower-earning spouse who also has little access to money/assets.
Family Code section 2030
Parts of Family Code section 2030 are in place to ensure that both parties in a divorce, annulment, or legal separation get equal access to the court and have legal representation from the very beginning of their case. The court considers the income and the needs to determine who needs an attorney fees order. The court has the sole right to decide the amount necessary to be paid to the other party as fees for the attorney. It also considers all costs needed for retaining the lawyer and litigating the divorce proceedings.
The court will also determine if the party seeking an attorney fee order is right in doing so. It will also consider if it is possible for one party to pay attorney fees for both the parties. If the court finds a huge disparity between the spouses’ abilities to pay attorney fees, the court will grant the order. A person seeking the order will have to approach the court before divorce proceedings begin to inform it that he or she will go unrepresented if not provided with financial help.
Family Code section 2032
Under section 2032 of the Family Code, the court has the right to determine if the request is reasonable or not. It will also want each party to have satisfactory financial resources so that each party’s case is represented properly in the court. The court will follow Family Law section 4320 to determine the circumstances of each party. If the court feels that the party seeking the attorney fees order is capable of paying the fees themselves, it would still consider all circumstances to ensure that the party is being represented fairly and adequately.
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