A question that many of my clients have when they have their initial meeting with me is can we request for the other party to pay for, at least contribute to the attorney fees. The answer in short is maybe.
In general, clients will be responsible to their attorney to pay the fees that are generated on their behalf. However, the California Family Code does have several provisions that allow for a court to order the other party to contribute to your fees. As with any issue brought before the court, there are no guarantees with how the judge will decide the issue, however there are two distinct mechanisms with which to request help with your fees from the other party.
The California Family Code has a statute that basically promotes equal access to justice. Therefore if the other party has a substantially higher income than you and is all around better situated to pay for an attorney, you may have a legitimate basis for asking the court for attorney fees from that party. An example of this may be the case of a husband and wife where one of the parents were a stay at home parent and the other has all the earning power. The court may award the spouse with the earning power to contribute to, or pay for the other party’s attorney fees. (Family Code Section 2030).
The other main provision for attorneys fees in family law can be asserted when one of the party’s is being very difficult and as a result causing an unreasonable amount of fees to be generated. The statute seeks to encourage cooperation among the party’s and reduce the costs of litigation. An example of a court ordering a party to pay attorneys fees under this statute may arise when one party is asked to produce financial or other information and refuses to do so and the issue must be addressed in court. In that situation a court may order the non-cooperating party to pay some attorney fees. (Family Code Section 271).
Keep in mind that you are ultimatley respondsible for the fees that your attorney has incurred on your behalf, but you may have a valid basis for requesting help from the other party.