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When Courts Award Attorneys’ Fees in Family Law Cases

Fri 29th Sep, 2023 Family Law

The goal for most litigants in divorce cases is to obtain the most financially advantageous outcome possible, whether that is through favorable property division, an award of alimony or child support, or other means. But attorneys’ fees in divorce cases can mount quickly, particularly in high-conflict cases. While the default rule in family law litigation is that each party pays their own attorneys’ fees, there are some instances in which the court will award attorneys’ fees to one party or the other. They typically do this where a party demonstrates substantial need or where a party engages in misconduct. A Stockton divorce attorney may be able to assist you in obtaining an award of attorneys’ fees if your situation merits it. 

Need-Based Awards

The policy of the state of California is that each party to a divorce proceeding should have access to legal representation to preserve each party’s rights. As such, family law courts may order one party in a divorce proceeding to pay the other party’s reasonable attorney fees and other costs associated with the proceedings. When determining whether to grant a party’s request for attorney fees, the court considers

  1. Whether an award of attorneys’ fees and costs is appropriate 
  2. Whether there is a disparity in access to funds to retain counsel
  3. Whether one party is able to pay for the legal representation of both parties 

If the court finds that there is an income disparity and an ability for one party to pay, it will order attorneys’ fees. 

Conduct-Based Awards

Misconduct during divorce litigation can not only delay the proceedings but increase their cost as well. For example, a party who refuses to participate in settlement negotiations or files unnecessary and frivolous motions can significantly drive up the costs of divorce litigation. This is a waste of the court’s time and a drain on the other party’s resources. To discourage such behavior and punish those who engage in it, courts may order the offending party to pay the other party’s attorneys’ fees if it finds that their conduct “frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation.” 

There are a few limitations on awards of attorneys’ fees in these cases, however: 

  • First, the court cannot impose a fee that would create an “unreasonable financial burden” on the payor spouse
  • Second, the amount of attorneys’ fees that can be awarded is limited to the attorneys’ fees and costs attributable to the misconduct of the other party 

A party seeking attorneys’ fees for misconduct must provide notice to the other party, who then has an opportunity to respond and be heard by the court. 

Seek an Award of Attorneys’ Fees With Help From a Stockton Divorce Attorney 

If you believe you are entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees — whether due to need or because of misconduct — an experienced attorney can help you make your case. For more information, please contact a Stockton divorce attorney at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau by using our online form or calling us at 209-477-8171.

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