When circumstances demonstrate a disparity in the parties' ability to pay for legal representation, a needs-based fees and costs award to “level the playing field” early in the proceeding is virtually mandatory. A party acting in pro per can be awarded a “reasonable amount” of money to enable him or her to retain an attorney in a timely manner before proceedings in the matter may go forward. Likewise, an interim fees and costs order may be made without prejudice to its later chargeability against the other spouse or the community estate.
A needs-based award can be made in post-judgment proceedings for services rendered and/or costs incurred during that phase of litigation, including during or after trial. The propriety of the award and the amount thereof is made on the basis of the parties’ then-existing circumstances. The trial court has broad discretion in ruling on a motion for attorney fees and costs in marital proceedings. The court can order equitable allocation of attorney fees and costs pursuant to a finding that a particular case is deemed legally "complex."
Counsel appointed by the court to represent minor children in contested custody/visitation cases is entitled to a reasonable sum in compensation and for expenses, to be determined by the court and to be paid by the parties in such proportions as the court deems just. For court-appointed custody evaluations, investigations, and assessments, the fee requirement will take into account each party's financial situation.
Attorney fees and court costs are awardable to a spouse who successfully pursues a claim against the other spouse for breach of fiduciary duty with respect to the management and control of community property. False accusations of child abuse or neglect during a child custody proceeding may result in sanctions against the offending party. This area of the law can only be handled by an attorney who understands the California Family Code and who is current on new case law. If you are looking for such an attorney, please contact us for a free consultation at (714) 733-7066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.