Section 2030 of the California Family Code clearly authorizes courts to issue an award of attorney fees to parties to divorce actions. When a party makes such a request under this statute, the court determines whether an award of such fees and costs is appropriate, whether the parties have disparate access to funds to retain counsel, and whether one of the spouses is able to pay for the legal representation of both. Courts have concluded that the purpose of the statute is to provide “parity” – a fair hearing with both sides equally represented. Interestingly enough, a party’s financial resources are but one factor that the court considers in determining how to allocate the overall cost of litigation equitably between the parties. It is vitally important to understand your financial rights in a divorce proceeding. An experienced San Diego family law attorney would best be able to identify and assess your rights and protect your financial future.
While the statute is clear with respect to the court’s authority, every divorce case is unique, and whether any one party would be entitled to an award of fees and costs is decided based on the facts and circumstances presented. In a recent, complicated divorce case initiated in California, the parties disputed the court’s award to the wife of pendente lite attorney fees to litigate a matter her husband brought in Nevada. Prior to their marriage, the couple signed a prenuptial agreement in Nevada, identifying Nevada law as governing the interpretation and enforcement of its terms.They also entered into a marital settlement agreement ratifying the prenuptial agreement. After separating and then reconciling, the parties subsequently entered into a post-marital agreement allowing the wife to seek fees and costs from the court in which a potential divorce action is pending.
The California court issued the divorce judgment and retained jurisdiction to resolve any remaining issues. During this time, the husband brought an action in Nevada asking the court to validate and enforce the prenuptial agreement, marital settlement agreement, and post-marital agreement. Just prior to the Nevada court’s ruling, the wife filed a motion for attorney fees in the California court in connection with the litigation that her husband filed in Nevada. The Nevada court found that the agreements were valid and enforceable and awarded the husband attorney fees in connection with this part of the Nevada case.
The California Court then awarded the wife $375,000 in attorney fees under Section 2030, to “ensure that each party has access to legal representation during the dissolution proceeding.” The husband appealed, arguing, among other things, that the court erred in awarding the wife the fees to litigate the Nevada action because that proceeding is not “related” to the dissolution action in accordance with the statute. The court of appeals affirmed the ruling, concluding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in finding that there was a disparity in access and ability to pay for attorney fees. While the wife was indeed “wealthy,” the court pointed out that the husband’s wealth “dwarfs” the wife’s. According to the court, when such a finding is made, the court “shall” make an order awarding attorney fees and costs. The court further found that the Nevada action was related to the family law matter initiated in California, and therefore the court had the authority to award fees under the statute.
This decision nicely illustrates the complex nature of seeking certain fees and costs in divorce proceedings. And while the opinion is unpublished and may not be cited to or relied on in future cases, the court’s underlying legal reasoning may serve to inform later family law matters in this jurisdiction. If you are considering divorce, it is important to identify any and all issues that may affect your financial rights. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties with divorce matters in Southern California. Doppelt & Forney serves clients in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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