Have you been going through a divorce and struggling to be able to resolve disputes agreeably? This is not uncommon, especially when money and legal fees are involved. You may be wondering if it is legal for you to be forced to pay for your spouse’s attorney and legal fees, and a number of other questions that may arise during this stressful process. An Orange County divorce attorney can help give you the fair representation that you deserve as you are working through your divorce proceedings. 

Divorces can not only be difficult, but they can often be an expensive process. Frequently when a couple splits, they do not both share the same financial resources. One spouse may not be working at the time of the divorce, which is common in many marital arrangements. Maybe one spouse is staying at home and taking care of children, or maybe they are only working part-time due to other arrangements. There may be one spouse who has been providing the primary family income. In California, there are laws that help ensure that both parties are able to afford an attorney. So in short, yes it is legal for one spouse to be required to pay all legal bills in a divorce, but only in rare circumstances. 

Family Code 2030

Under California law, Family Code 2030 allows a court to order a need-based award to a spouse who is in need of an attorney. Quite simply, one spouse can be required by the court to pay for attorney fees of the other spouse when applicable under certain circumstances. There are several components which are considered by the court in order to award a need-based award. First of all, the court looks at each spouse’s ability to pay their own attorney fees themselves. They will take into account any assets or any liabilities that each spouse may have, as well as their current financial expenses and obligations they have to take care of personally. One of the most important aspects the court considers is the disparity between the two incomes of each spouse. Another important factor is the effort of each spouse to find work and generate income, which can protect someone from a spouse trying to take advantage of the other’s wealth. 

In other words, the court takes a careful look into the financial situations of each spouse and compares them to one another when making their decision regarding need-based awards. The court can decide to give a need-based award if they meet two requirements. The first is if there would be an undue burden placed upon one spouse if they are required to pay their own legal bills. The second is if one of the spouses has enough financial resources to cover some or all of the legal fees for the other. 

Poor Conduct

Additionally, courts will also take the conduct of each spouse into consideration when making a decision to award support for attorney fees. California law does allow the courts to award support for legal fees if one of the spouses shows bad conduct. Examples of poor conduct can range from physical abuse to a spouse purposely dragging their feet in order to cause a financial burden to the other. The state of California desires to resolve divorce cases quickly, and a court can take action if there is proof to suggest one spouse is intentionally slowing the process to financially harm the other. 

Here are some specific examples that constitute as evidence that one spouse is intentionally slowing the divorce process with malicious intent.  In these cases, a judge has the right to decide to rule that one spouse pay the other spouse’s attorney fees. 

  • The spouse hides their personal assets
  • The spouse makes false allegations toward the other
  • The spouse refuses to negotiate amicably
  • The spouse purposely refrains from turning in documents

Each of these instances will cause a divorce proceeding to lengthen, costing you even more in attorney’s fees. The court takes these actions very seriously and may order the spouse showing malicious intent to pay the other spouse’s attorney fees. 

What a Judge Does Not Consider When Awarding One Spouse to Pay The Other’s Attorney Fees

It is important to distinguish that poor conduct refers to behaviors in the divorce proceedings, specifically making efforts to slow down the proceedings such that it would financially harm the other. This does not refer to behaviors of the spouse during the marriage itself, such as cases of infidelity. Remember that California is a “No-fault” divorce state, which means that the state does not look at who is responsible for the divorce in any way when coming to a decision, even decisions of awarding financial assistance. In other words, you cannot demand that your spouse pay your attorney fees because they cheated on you. 

To sum it up more simply, there are two circumstances where a court may decide to order one spouse to cover the attorney fees of the other: 

  1. If there is a clear financial disparity between the two spouses
  2. If one of the spouses engages in poor conduct

As you can see, though the courts do have the power to award one spouse to pay the other’s legal fees, the instances are very rare. The court must be able to clearly verify a significant financial disparity between spouses or specific examples of poor conduct. 

If you feel that you may qualify for financial assistance with your attorney’s fees due to one of the aforementioned reasons, you may want to speak with a qualified divorce attorney. It is important that you feel fairly represented and protected during this time.