Family Law: How to Get the Other Party to Pay Your Lawyer’s Fees

Getting Opposing Side to Pay Court Legal Fees

The legal process for settling divorces and child custody disputes can be extremely messy and complex. In order for the California Family Code to be applied as intended, both sides of a court case need to have access to competent legal representation.

However, it’s common for one spouse or parent to have better financial resources than the other. While California law deems it proper for spouses to use community property for hiring attorneys, there may be situations in which you don’t have full access to shared financial resources. This is why California law allows one side in a family law case to request to have their lawyer’s fees paid for by the other side.

When considering whether to have one party cover the other’s legal fees, a judge will examine the incomes and financial situations of both parties.

If it’s clear that there is a serious inequality in the ability of one party versus another to retain a family law lawyer, then a judge may ask the party with more money to cover some or all of the cost of the other party’s lawyer. Just as marriage involves shared expenses, divorces and child custody hearings can require cost-sharing as well.

Keep in mind, this request can be made whether or not you currently have a lawyer. If you do already have a lawyer, your lawyer can help you make this request, and may have a better chance of success than you doing so on your own.

You also have the right to ask for financial assistance more than once. If you reach a point where you’ve exhausted your funds, you can make additional requests for assistance with legal costs. In addition, if you go back to court after the judgment to request a change, you can ask for assistance with the lawyer’s fees associated with that request.

There are a variety of family law cases for which you can ask for lawyer’s feeds from the other side. These include:

  • Divorce
  • Child custody
  • Enforcing an order for child or spousal support.
  • Requesting a change in child or spousal support
  • Requesting a restraining order
  • Establishing parentage

There are also situations in which a judge may penalize one side by ordering them to pay the lawyer’s fees of the other side.

In family law cases, the majority of the time one side pays for the other’s legal fees based upon financial inequalities like those described above. However, in situations where one party abuses the other party and the legal system, a judge may choose to sanction them by compelling them to pay the lawyer’s fees of the other party.

Situations warranting such a penalty can include:

  • Filing actions that are clearly frivolous and have no legal merit.
  • Failing to supply required financial documents.
  • Improper use or handling of community property.
  • Giving false information or withholding information.
  • Falsely accusing the other party of child abuse.

How to request lawyer’s fees from the other party in a family law case.

First of all, you will need to download and fill out the following forms from the California Courts website:

  1. Form FL-319: Request for Attorney’s Fees and Costs
  2. Form FL-300: Request for Order
  3. Form FL-150: Income and Expense Declaration
  4. Form FL-158: Supporting Declaration for Attorney’s Fees and Costs

Please note: these forms will ask for your case number. This is the case number cited on your case’s Summons or Petition document.

If you don’t have a lawyer assisting you with filling out the forms, be sure to have the forms checked over by the self-help center or family law facilitator at your local court. For Sacramento area residents, the local self-help center is located at the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse, and is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 am to noon, and 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm.

Once you have the go-ahead from your lawyer or the self-help center staff, make at least two copies of each form, as well as any additional materials you’re supplying alongside the forms. Retain one copy for you, and the other for the opposing party. Take the original documents and copies and turn them into the court clerk. You will have to pay a filing fee, but you may be eligible for a fee waiver. The clerk will provide you with your court date.

Follow the court clerk’s instructions on how to serve the other party, file your proof of service, and be present in court on the date specified by the clerk. The judge may make a decision on your fee request that day, or may make a decision within 15 days of the court hearing. If you haven’t heard anything after 15 days have elapsed, call or visit the court and ask for an update on the judge’s decision.

Having represented many clients for divorce and child custody cases, we understand how stressful lawyer fees can be, and have helped many clients successfully request lawyer’s fees from the other party. If you are in the beginning stages of your case, Toeppen & Grevious can help you file for financial assistance while preparing your case. To learn more about how we can help, give us a call at (916) 400-4516, or send us a message using our contact form.