Friday, June 10, 2016

Common Questions Regarding Paying for Attorney's Fees

When clients contact us to assist in their family law cases, one of the first questions is, "How much is this going to cost?" The true answer is that we do not know. The reason is because every case is different since the people who control the cost are you and your ex. We have some people who come to us with essentially a full agreement (for those we can often agree to a flat fee or estimate 7-12 hours of attorney time); we have some people that we are able to settle their case quickly because they both just want what the law provides for or they are both fairly agreeable people (estimate 20-40 hours); we have the "normal" or "average" cases (estimate 40-60 hours);  then we have complicated cases (60-100 hours) and very complicated cases/cases that go to trial (100-200+ hours).Since we charge on a sliding scale our costs are still significantly lower than the average attorney's, but we still cannot guarantee a certain maximum cost since we have no control over whether the other side agrees to a reasonable settlement; whether they make allegations of abuse; whether they ask for a trial, etc. Since we do help low income and moderate income families, we do try to keep the costs down as much as possible.

The follow up question is typically, " Can I can my ex pay all or some of my attorney's fees?"

The California family code allows you to either access community funds (if they are available), or to request that the court order your ex pay an amount of attorney's fees that will permit you to retain an attorney. The court typically focuses on the ability of the higher wage earner to pay their own attorney's fees as well as yours and also the financial disparity between the parties (typically how much you each make and whether your ex has substantial separate property funds that you do not and so they can afford to assist with your fees). There are also sanction based fees (your ex does not respond to a motion to compel for example, or otherwise holds up the divorce process unnecessarily and in bad faith) or fees that you can only get if you win on your motion. For example, to get attorney's fees related to a restraining order, the victim must win and be issued a restraining order after hearing in addition to showing the ability of the other party to pay.

It is important to make the attorney's fees request early on, because a lot of judges are hesitant to award attorney's fees after you have already received an order for spousal support when handling cases with low income or moderate income parties, because the higher wage earner will already be giving a chunk of their income to you as support.