One of the most common questions we receive at Sarieh Law Offices is, “How can I possibly afford a divorce?” It is a difficult question to answer because, in reality, divorce is often expensive. However, you should know that even if you are the lower income earner in your marriage, there are ways to get financial assistance for your divorce attorney fees, including securing fees from your spouse.

Two Roads to Spouse Attorney’s Fees

There are two major ways in which a court may order your spouse to pay for your divorce attorney:

  • A need-based fee award. This is the most common type of attorney fee award in California. Very simply, the court wants to ensure that both spouses are on equal footing during the divorce proceedings. If one spouse does not have equal access to the proper legal representation due to the limitations of their income or assets, the judge can order the other spouse to pay their partner or their partner’s attorney. In order to secure these fees, however, the spouse who earns less must show his or her need through evidence.
  • A bad conduct-based fee award. This less-common type of attorney fee award comes about when you can prove that your spouse is unnecessarily driving up litigation costs or lengthening the divorce proceedings, possibly to increase your attorney fees, aggravate you and the court, or needlessly delay your divorce finalization. In this case, the amount or percentage of attorney’s fees that you collect will depend on the details of the case, the details of your spouse’s bad behavior, and your spouse’s ability to pay. This type of attorney fee has nothing to do with whether you yourself can afford to pay your attorney fees.

Attorney Fees, Child Custody & Spousal Support

Y may not be able to collect all or part of need-based attorney fees from your spouse if you are also receiving child custody payments or spousal support payments. This is because of a recent court decision in California, Alan T.S. v. Superior Court, in which the state found that a man was not obligated to pay his wife’s divorce attorney’s fees because of his already significant obligations to pay child and spousal support.

Other Options for Low-Income Spouses Seeking to Afford a Divorce

There are a few other options that could help some Californians afford a divorce. Some low-income families may be able to take advantage of federally funded programs and services designed to help people with their legal needs. In addition, some lawyers offer pro bono services for certain types of divorce cases, such as cases involving a low wage earner or cases involving domestic abuse.

Orange County Divorce Attorneys

Even if you are not sure if you can afford a California divorce attorney, we encourage you to speak to us about your circumstances and tell us your story. We may be able to help you better understand your legal options, legal needs, and possible avenues to secure attorney fees and representation.

To request a free 45-minute consultation with one of our Santa Ana divorce lawyers, or simply to ask a question about your divorce, please call Sarieh Law Offices today at (714) 542-6200. You can also fill out our online contact form and we will get in touch within 24 hours.