All too often, one of the divorcing parties in a marriage has primary (or sole) access to the martial financial resources. This presents problems for the spouse that does not have control to ensure that he or she has access to legal representation. Similarly, there are situations when a legal dispute is initiated regarding a Petition to Establish Custody, or a modification of support ( child or spousal), or even the modification of a custody order, where one party is in a financially superior position relative to the other party.
The California Legislature, in its attempt to ensure adequate legal representation for both parties created California Family Code section 2030.
As a brief overview, Family Code § 2030 provides "each party has access to legal representation to preserve each party's rights by ordering, if necessary based upon 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...." Family Code § 2030 applies to marital dissolutions ( divorce) , petitions to establish paternity, child custody disputes, modification of child custody, modification or establishing spousal or child support, and just about every imaginable family law setting.
Courts are directed to look at the respective incomes and needs of the parties, in addition to any factors affecting the parties' respective abilities to pay. If the findings demonstrate disparity in access and ability to pay, the court shall make an order awarding attorney's fees and costs. (Family Code section 2030(a)(2).)
Thus, there are four basic themes that govern whether you are entitled to receive or be required to pay attorney fees. These are: (1) the ability of each party to pay attorney fees to the other party or to their own attorney; (2) the relative financial needs of each party; (3) relative disparity of access to funds; and (4) conduct by either party that justifies awarding attorney fees to sanction bad behavior.
In all cases the relative financial circumstances of the parties must be evaluated, which includes looking at what assets each party controls as well as their respective income streams. Even if you have money sufficient to pay an attorney, you are not necessarily required to use or exhaust your resources if circumstances like the relative net worth or income streams of each of you justify a contribution form the other party.
Contact a Santa Clarita Family Law Attorney
Our law office is located in Santa Clarita, serving communities in Saugus, Canyon Country, Valencia, Newhall, and more. If you have any questions regarding divorce, child custody disputes, child support requests, spousal support, questions about modifying a child support order, or if you need assistance obtaining an order for your spouse or parent of your child to assist you financially with attorney fees, please call family law attorney Eric Martinelli with the Martinelli Law Group for a free consultation.