Wail Sarieh
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An Overview Of California’s Family Code 2030

Family Law

California Family Code 2030 is one of the most important laws governing divorce (as well as annulments and legal separations) in this state. Family Code 2030 is designed to make California’s divorce process fair and just for everyone involved by ensuring that both spouses have equal access to the courts and to legal representation.

This general overview of Family Code 2030 should help you understand the law and the divorce process in California, but if you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce, you will still need to obtain legal advice pertinent to your personal circumstances. You’ll need to consult an experienced Orange County family law attorney.

California Family Code 2030 governs divorces, legal separations, and annulments in this state as well as any subsequent matters of family law stemming from one of those three actions. Under Family Code 2030, California family courts must ensure that both parties in a divorce (or legal separation or annulment) have adequate access to legal representation.

Both spouses have the right to be represented by a practicing California divorce attorney. Family Code 2030 requires the protection of this right so that a divorce does not become a war of attrition where one spouse with significantly more income can take advantage of the other spouse in the courtroom.

If one partner is at a considerable financial disadvantage, family court judges will – but only in very rare cases – order one partner to pay the other’s lawyer fees, but only if the pair’s finances are so unbalanced that without the judge’s order, the entire process would one-sided. If someone intends to have the spouse pay his or her attorney fees in a divorce, that person’s divorce attorney will file a motion that asks the judge to issue the order.

HOW DOES FAMILY CODE 2030 WORK?

If one spouse has not earned income during the marriage, it’s possible – in rare cases – to have no income or resources at all, or barely enough to hire a divorce lawyer. In such a case, when that partner’s divorce attorney asks the judge to order the other spouse to pay, the judge will review the finances of both parties and decide if one spouse should pay all or part of the other’s attorney fees. The court must rule “within 15 days of the hearing on the motion.”

California Family Code 2030 requires judges to order whatever amount is reasonably needed for attorney fees. The order must be based on the needs and income of both divorcing spouses, and the court must additionally issue a statement explaining the reasoning for its determination.

In fact, when the court finds a significant income disparity – when one spouse can pay attorney fees for both sides and the other side cannot even pay for its own attorney – Family Code 2030 requires the court to issue the order and requires the more advantaged spouse to pay for both sides’ attorneys.

California Family Code 2030 even allows a spouse acting as his or her own attorney – a spouse with no ability to hire an attorney at the start of the divorce process – to ask the court to order the other party to pay for the fees. A judge can issue that order if the other spouse has the ability to pay a reasonable amount. This lets the partner representing himself or herself hire an attorney before the proceeding continues to move forward.

WHAT ELSE DOES FAMILY CODE 2030 PROVIDE?

California Family Code 2030 has several other important provisions. A spouse may also be ordered to pay the other’s fees for pertinent legal services rendered either before or after the filing of the divorce petition. Also under the California Family Code, a family court may increase the initial amount of the award at a subsequent point in the proceedings if such an increase is reasonably necessary for the financially disadvantaged spouse to continue to prosecute or defend the proceeding, a related proceeding, or even a subsequent appeal.

A related statute, Family Code 2032, specifies that any order to pay attorney fees must be “just and reasonable under the relative circumstances of the respective parties.” Family Code 2032 also explains that just because the spouse who is asking for attorney fees may, in fact, have the resources to pay his or her own attorney does not automatically mean that there will be no award. The mere ability to pay is only one consideration. A California family court must spread the overall cost of a divorce “equitably” between the parties.

WHAT TYPES OF INCOME MUST BE CONSIDERED UNDER FAMILY CODE 2030?

Thus, a family court judge will order an award for lawyer fees only if the partner who is asked to pay the award has the ability to pay it. However, the court will take into account virtually all sources of income including community property and investment earnings.

The court may even scrutinize the finances of a spouse’s new partner if the two are cohabiting and sharing expenses. Additionally, the court may consider a spouse’s “earning ability” as opposed to his or her actual earned income, so choosing not to work doesn’t get anyone out of having to comply with the court order.

In California, the presumptive legal principle is that the “playing field” should be reasonably level in divorce proceedings. The spouses are entitled to an equal opportunity to make their cases and to be heard by the court.

Thus, one of the court’s obligations is making sure that both parties have the ability to pay for attorneys. When one party cannot pay for a divorce lawyer – but the other party can pay for two – that is when the court may order the more prosperous partner to pay for both sides’ attorneys.

No one in California should look at Family Code 2030 and think that it grants a free ticket to divorce. On the other hand, many who divorce in this state fail to take full advantage of their rights under Family Code 2030 or may not even be aware of them. That’s one reason – among many – why anyone who is divorcing or anticipating divorce in Southern California will need the sound legal advice that an experienced Orange County family law attorney can provide. A good divorce attorney will explain your rights under the law, protect those rights, and advocate aggressively in family court for justice on your behalf.

Wail Sarieh
By Wail Sarieh