Planning For Lawyer’s Fees And Costs In Orange County Divorce Cases

Understanding and planning for the costs of  an Orange County dissolution, paternity and other family law litigation is as important as knowing your rights and responsibilities with respect to the ultimate issues of custody, visitation, support and the division of community assets and debts.  Farzad Family Law provides case strategy sessions during which we assess potential costs for clients including not only anticipated attorneys fees and court costs, but potentially expert fees, court investigator fees and other costs of litigation.

Some spouses are eligible to file for summary dissolution if married for a very short period of time with  no minor children and a community estate worth less than $5,000 (value of community assets less the amount of community debt).   The summary dissolution process involves simplified court forms that significantly reduce and or obviate the need to retain counsel (the Orange County family court called Lamoreaux Justice Center has a self-help center where litigants can obtain assistance completing summary dissolution forms).

Orange County Courts also permit litigants to apply for a waiver of court fees (the filing fee to file a Petition for Dissolution in Orange County as of January 1, 2012, is $395.00 per spouse), and often times grant those applications for litigants who earn less than full-time, minimum wage income (approximately 1,400.00 per month gross).

For those litigants whose family law case involves important issues of custody, visitation, child support, spousal support and/or large community estates, community ownership of corporate business(es) the issues of attorneys fees and costs is as central and important to effective management and resolution of the Orange County divorce or paternity case.

Courts have a duty to ensure each spouse to have access to legal representation in their divorce case.  In cases where there is a disparity in the incomes of the spouses and the lower-earning spouse can show a need for assistance in paying for his/her attorneys fees  and costs, as well as an ability of the other spouse to pay for his/her own fees as well as the fees of the other spouse, courts can order the higher-earning spouse to pay the other spouse’s attorneys fees and costs.

Spouses who find themselves without counsel have the right to apply to the court for an order for attorneys fees and costs to be able to retain an attorney.  The Orange County Family Court can also order a spouse to pay for the other spouse’s past attorneys fees and costs and for prospective, estimated attorneys fees and costs.  Courts typically will award fees and costs where appropriate for prospective attorneys fees  and costs to enable the parties to pursue their legal rights and prosecute their cases to trial and reserve the issue of past attorneys fees until trial if the case does not resolve prior thereto.

It is important to also recognize that courts have the ability to order attorneys fees and costs to be paid from community sources such as investment accounts, corporate business(es), and can order the sale of community assets to help pay for the spouses’ costs of litigation.

In addition to awarding fees and costs on a “need and ability-to-pay” basis, courts may also order one party and/or their counsel to pay attorneys fees and costs as a form of monetary sanctions in situations where the court finds that the conduct of the party and/or their attorney furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between the parties and attorneys.

Warmest Regards,

Matthew J. Sundly
Orange County Divorce & Family Law Attorneys
1851 E. 1st Street, Suite 1150
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Telephone: (714) 937-1193
Facsimile: (714) 937-1192

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