The State Bar of California

Attorney's Fees and Costs Awards

  1. Need Based Awards

    In a divorce case (dissolution, legal separation, nullity, or a related post judgment proceeding) the Court is required to ensure that each party has access to legal representation. In order to ensure that each party has equal access to legal representation, the Court may make an award of reasonable attorney’s fees under Family Code Section 2030. This award of attorney’s fees is based upon the needs of one party and the other party’s ability to pay.

    The attorney’s fee award must be just and reasonable under the relative circumstances of the parties, taking into consideration the financial resources and assets available to each party and if relevant, the circumstances of the respective parties during marriage.

    The Court also may order attorney’s fees and costs in a paternity case under the Uniform Parentage Act, or in a complex case requiring a complex case management plan, in order to ensure equal access to legal representation.

  2. Awards As a Sanction

    Under Family Code Section 271, the Court may order one party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees if they engage in obstructive behavior, in that they frustrate “the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation.”

    For example, an award of attorney’s fees as a sanction can be ordered for behavior such as making a settlement offer that could never be seriously considered by the opposing party and was made only to antagonize the opposing party. (Marriage of Abrams (2003) 105 Cal. App. 4th 979, 992). Another example of behavior that would warrant an award of attorney’s fees is making “frivolous” claims, meaning claims that are completely without merit and are made solely for the purpose of harassment.

    The Court has the authority under several other statutes to order one party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees as a sanction under several other circumstances such as the following:

    • Violation of a Court Order
    • Support enforcement and/or contempt proceeding
    • Prevailing in a support modification Hearing
    • A Domestic Violence action
    • Noncompliance with Declaration of Disclosure requirements
    • Breach of fiduciary duty
    • Misuse of the discovery process
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