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Need-Based Attorney’s Fees in California Divorce Cases


In most civil lawsuits, the winning party may sometimes receive payment from the other party covering their attorney’s fees. Unlike those lawsuits, there is no “winning” party in a divorce case. Despite this fact, a party can receive an award for attorney’s fees based on their financial needs and the other party’s ability to cover such needs.

An award for need-based attorney’s fees is similar to an award of spousal support pendente lite as both awards serve to cover a party’s financial needs in a divorce case, taking into account the other party’s ability to pay. “Pendent lite” spousal support allows courts to order temporary spousal support to maintain the financial status quo between the parties during divorce proceedings.

Need-Based Attorney’s Fees in California

Under California Family Code § 2030, “the court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including access early in the proceedings, to preserve each party’s rights by ordering, if necessary based on the income and needs assessments, one party…to pay to the other party…whatever amount is reasonably necessary for attorney’s fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.”

Unlike attorney’s fees in other conventional adversarial lawsuits, the purpose of awarding attorney’s fees in a divorce case under Family Code § 2030 is to make sure both parties have adequate financial resources to have access to legal representation.

Courts have held that a party that has the resources to pay for their own attorney does not necessarily preclude them from recovering need-based attorney’s fees. Instead, California courts are required to determine how to apportion the costs of the litigation between the parties after considering their respective circumstances.

However, an award for attorney’s fees is limited to fees that were “reasonably necessary” to conduct the litigation. California Family Code § 2032 outlines considerations that courts must assess when determining the reasonableness of a need-based attorney fee award. Specifically, Section 2032 requires courts to consider the same factors for determining an award for spousal support under California Family Code § 4320 whenever relevant.

In determining whether attorney’s fees were reasonably necessary for the party’s representation, courts will consider the following:

  • The skill and effort of the attorney
  • Whether the attorney’s work was wisely devoted to expeditiously resolving the matter
  • Over-litigation of an issue
  • Whether the attorney’s work served no other purpose than to prolong and complicate the litigation

To Learn More, Contact Gille Kay Law Group, PC

In California divorce cases, financial issues such as property division, spousal support, child support, and attorney’s fees can be challenging to resolve. As a result, it is in your best interest to retain the professional services of a licensed attorney from Gille Kay Law Group, PC. We have experience with complex issues connected to California family law, including matters involving need-based attorney’s fees.

Call us at (626) 340-0955 or contact us online today to schedule a consultation about your case.

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