One of the first questions we hear in a family law case is, "Who is paying for the lawyers?" One of the biggest challenges in a family law is legal costs associated with obtaining a dissolution of marriage, especially in cases where child custody and support are at issue. In highly litigious cases, the attorney costs may be astronomical due to the procedural work the court requires to bring the case to trial. Even in simpler non-contested cases there are certain documents that need to be prepared, filed and exchanged thus costing attorney's fees.
When one party has historically been left out of the family's financial decision making, that party may not have access to funds to hire an attorney. Without someone advocating for his or her interest, more often than not, the non-represented party may lose custody of the minor children or may not receive the support to which they are entitled.
California Family Code 2030 provides a way for a party that cannot afford representation to get the other party to pay.
The case of In Re Marriage of Kelso reaffirmed Fam. Code 2030 and it ruled that, "In determining award of attorney fees in marriage dissolution action, the court must take into account the relative circumstances of the parties including their respective needs, income, and assets, and in determining whether the fees incurred were reasonable, the court may consider various factors including the nature of the litigation, its complexity, the amount involved, the financial circumstances of the parties, the legal skill involved, and whether counsel's skill and effort were wisely devoted to the expeditious disposition of the case." West's Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 2030. In re Marriage of Kelso, 67 Cal. App. 4th 374, 79 Cal. Rptr. 2d 39 (1998)
As noted above, the court does not only consider the parties' incomes but they will consider the parties' assets. If one party has assets that they have access to such as bank accounts or savings accounts, the court may not award attorney fees. Very often, an attorney is not familiar with the law; in these cases, attorney's fees might be granted for a spouse that can afford counsel or denied for someone who simply does not have the means to hire an attorney.
It is very important to speak to a local attorney in Pleasanton, CA or Oakdale, CA to ensure that your interests are protected and you have someone advocating for you.