Many Sacramento divorce litigants are concerned about the possibility of being ordered to pay their spouse’s attorney fees.  Most folks, in our experience, are appalled at the possibility of having to pay their spouse’s attorney fees when they are struggling to pay their own attorney fees and complete their Sacramento divorce.

The (sometimes) unfortunate reality of attorney fees can be frustrating and financially taxing, but it is important that you are prepared to deal with this issue in your Sacramento divorce. Family Code 2030 permits the court to make an award of attorney fees to “equalize the playing field” between the parties and to ensure that each party has financial access to legal representation. The standards the court must follow are the lower earning party’s “need” and the higher earning party’s “ability to pay.”

The court is required to consider each party’s gross monthly income from all sources (wages, tips, bonuses, overtime, self-employment income, unemployment, disability, cash gifts from others, etc).  The court is also required to consider the available assets for each party such as liquid cash, equity in a home or car, and available credit cards.  The court will usually compare the income gap between the higher earner’s income and the lower earner’s income and order the higher earner to pay the lower earner to pay the difference.  If the higher earner has an available and significantly sized asset (such as cash), the court will often order the whole attorney fee award to be paid to the lower earner within 10-30 days.  If the higher earner has no significant assets, the court will often order the attorney fee award to be paid to the lower earner in monthly installments.

The courts retain the right to make attorney fee awards at more than one point in the case.  It is an ongoing right of the lower earning party to ask that the higher earning party share in the cost of keeping the divorce litigation “fair” and ensuring that each party has equal access to divorce representation.

Whether you are the higher earning spouse or the lower earning spouse, please give us a call to discuss the attorney fee issue in conjunction with your Sacramento divorce.