The California Family Code provides for attorney fee awards in family law matters. I am often asked whether the opposing party can be made to pay for attorney fees and costs. The answer to this question is “it depends” on the facts in your case. I will discuss the two most commonly used sections to award attorney fees.
There are two discrete statutory sources of authority for fees and costs awards in dissolution, legal separation and nullity actions: First, there are Need Based Attorney Fees. Pursuant to Fam.C. §§ 2030 and 2032, the court is empowered to order the payment of fees and costs as between the parties, based on their “relative circumstances” (i.e., respective incomes and needs and abilities to pay) in order to ensure a parity of legal representation in the action. Alternatively, or in addition to a need-based award (above), Fam.C. § 271provides the court with a powerful weapon to curb obstreperous conduct in family law proceedings by assessing fees and costs as a sanction.
Whether need-based or as a sanction, Family Code fees and costs may be awarded by the judgment and/or at any time during pendency of the action or for postjudgment appellate, modification or enforcement proceedings. [Fam.C. § 2030; seeMarriage of Green (1992) 6 CA4th 584, 593, 7 CR2d 872, 876–877; Bidna v. Rosen (1993) 19 CA4th 27, 38, 23 CR2d 251, 258; see also Marriage of Askmo (2000) 85 CA4th 1032, 1038–1039, 102 CR2d 662, 666—pendente lite need-based attorney fees awardable to W while her default was in effect and pending H's appeal from order granting W relief from default judgment.
At conclusion of client’s case in chief: Request for a need-based attorney fees and costs award should be made upon conclusion of the client’s case in chief and before counsel rests. Supporting evidence will usually be taken at that point and the matter decided along with all other issues in the case.
Statement of decision: It behooves counsel to request a statement of decision on the underlying evidence used to compute a reasonable fees and/or costs award. Failure to request a statement of decision on the issue waives the right to the relevant computations; and an award of reasonable amounts will be upheld on appeal under the doctrine of implied findings (see Chs. 15 & 16). [Marriage of Ananeh–Firempong (1990) 219 CA3d 272, 280, 268 CR 83, 87; Marriage of McQuoid (1991) 9 CA4th 1353, 1361, 12 CR2d 737, 740]
It is important that you consult with your attorney regarding the possibility of attorney fee awards (either in your favor or against you) in your case. You may be ordered to pay attorney fees either because of your financial circumstances or because of your sanctionable conduct.
If you have questions regarding possible attorney fee awards in your Family Law case please contact Attorney Keith F. Simpson today at (310) 297-9090 or visit his website at http://www.simpsonlaw.net to set an appointment to discuss your legal matter.