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Can I Make My Spouse Pay My Attorney Fees in a Divorce?

Posted by Furman & Zavatsky | Mar 19, 2020

Contested divorces are usually the most expensive type of divorces. When couples argue about everything and cannot agree on alimony, child support, child custody, or who gets to keep the dog, each Los Angeles family law attorney will bill accordingly. Divorce often results in conflict, especially when deciding division of property. Divorces can put a strain on finances if they are contested and require litigation.

There are many spouses who ask if they can force their spouse to pay their attorney's fees. This is especially true in a situation where the conduct of their spouse, such as infidelity, sparked the divorce. It should be noted you can't get your spouse to pay for your attorney's fees because they cheated on you.

Can I Make My Spouse Pay My Attorney Fees in a California Divorce?

Generally, one spouse can't force the other to pay for their divorce in California. Each spouse pays for their own lawyer and all associated costs. However, there are circumstances where a family court judge may order a spouse to pay the for the other spouse's attorney fees and costs.

In a divorce or legal separation, a spouse can make a request for lawyer's fees in the family court from the beginning of the case. The primary purpose for an order for attorney's fee is not to punish or reward one spouse, rather to ensure a fair process so both spouses are able to have legal representation.

In some divorces, one spouse will request that the other pay their attorney fees. Although this may or may not be a real need, some are successful, and some are not, depending on the circumstances. California is a no-fault divorce state and the court doesn't consider who is responsible for the dissolution of marriage.

If you want to request that your spouse pay some or all of your legal fees in your divorce, talk to your lawyer about realistic expectations and the best way to request this.

To give readers a better understanding if a spouse can be forced to pay the other's attorney fees, our California divorce lawyers are providing a review below.

California Family Courts Can Order One Spouse to Pay

California law lays out a few main situations when one spouse can get lawyer fees from the other. One includes a situation where one spouse believes the other intentionally engaged in disorderly conduct to delay the settlement of the divorce. However, this requires filing for a sanction and typically expensive which makes this option not ideal.

The other more common situation where one spouse could get their spouse to pay their lawyer fees is proving a large disparity in income and assets that limits their own ability to pay them.

If there is a large income gap between the spouses, family court judges will often order the higher-earning spouse to help pay the legal fees of the other.

In divorces where one spouse can afford to pay legal fees for both spouses, and the other cannot even pay for their own, an order for costs is both necessary and fair. It makes the circumstances even for both parties. Both sides should be given the opportunity to retain their own legal counsel, not just the party with greater financial strength.

Requesting Attorney Fee's

If sufficient assets aren't available and one spouse doesn't earn enough to pay their own legal fees, California Family Code 2030 includes a provision allowing the court to order the other spouse to cover legal fees of the other.

This is needs-based evaluation and award of legal fees can only be made by a spouse making a motion seeking financial assistance. When considering the motion for payment of attorneys' fees, the court will review three main factors.

These include whether an award for attorney's fees is appropriate, whether there is a disparity in access to funds to retain a lawyer, and whether one spouse is able to pay for legal representation of both.

To ask the court for a hearing for attorney fees, you will need to complete some forms. There is the request for order (Form FL-300), request for attorney's fees and costs attachment (Form FL-319), income and expense declaration (Form FL-150), and the supporting declaration for attorney's fees attachment (Form FL-158).

There are situations where a family court judge will order a spouse to pay the other's attorneys fee where there has been acts of bad faith. For example, refusing to negotiate in the divorce, making false accusations, or hiding their assets.

When There is Not a Large Income Gap Between Spouses

In cases where spouses make about the same amount of money, and there is no significant difference, the judge will sometimes allow one spouse to use marital assets to come up with the funds to pay their family law attorney in Los Angeles, such as:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks
  • A 401(k) retirement plan

The judge may order the spouse using the marital assets to reimburse the other spouse when the divorce is finalized, and the property is divided. When each spouse works and contributes to the family income, it is rare to have a judge require one spouse to pay the other's attorney fees.

Divorces in which one spouse works and the other is entirely financially dependent on them are becoming increasingly unusual. As long as the spouses make about the same wages, they will each be responsible for paying their own attorney fees.

Penalties for Attorney Fees

Some spouses insist on being difficult during the divorce process. This type of behavior will increase legal fees for both sides, wastes the court's time and resources, drags out the divorces process for all involved, and induces unnecessary stress.  If your spouse does any of the following, your attorney fees will increase:

  • constantly filing motions with the court about insignificant issues
  • refusing to comply with court orders
  • delaying providing requested information to the other spouse (such as financial documents)
  • not showing up for hearings or court-ordered meditation sessions

If one spouse appears to be intentionally disruptive to the process of divorces and increases the cost of litigating the divorce, a judge will be more likely to honor the request to have on spouse pay for the other's legal fees either in part or in full per California Family Code.

California Supreme Court Recommendations

In Alan S. v. Superior Court, the court considered how courts can assure that each party in a divorce has access to legal representation to preserve their rights. The court stated that taking money from one spouse and giving it to the other is not to redistribute money from the wealthier party to the lesser income party, but it is so that each side can be equally represented.

However, in doing so, the Court of Appeals warns that the court could be depriving the paying spouse of the ability to afford their own legal representation. They recommend that judges look at the factors when determining if one spouse should pay for the other's legal fees in the divorce process in California.

Get Help from a Family Law Lawyer in Los Angeles

Divorce is stressful enough, even when money is of no issue. If you are struggling to pay your attorney fees or know you will not have enough money to do so when needed, you may have options depending on the financial circumstances of your marriage.

Instead of trying to handle your legal affairs on your own, schedule a consultation with our family law attorneys. During this consultation, you may discover that your spouse will likely need to pay some of your attorney fees, helping reduce some of your stress in the divorce process.

Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles family law and divorce lawyers located at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Call us for a consultation at (818) 528-3471.

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Call a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer

Family law disputes have the potential to have a significant impact on your quality of life and overall happiness. As a result, it is critical for you to protect your rights to the fullest extent possible when involved in a dispute related to family law. The lawyers of Furman & Zavatsky have the skill and experience to resolve your case as favorably as possible and provide compassionate and understanding legal counsel and representation. We also offer flat fee legal services for divorce and family law issues.

To schedule a free consultation with one of our Los Angeles divorce attorneys, call our office today at 818-528-3471. Read our blog on how to prepare for your first meeting with a divorce lawyer.

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