Family law is one of the most emotional and sensitive areas of law. Tensions can run high when child custody, visitation, support, and even domestic violence are involved in a divorce in California. The importance of what is at stake in a family law case can sometimes cause litigants to retaliate against their spouses outside of the family law courtroom. Often in family law, one spouse has greater access to financial resources than the other. In order to prevent bullying and harassment in family law when the parties are on unequal financial footing California enacted Family Code § 2030.
Family Code § 2030 states:
The goal of Family Code § 2030 is to ensure both parties have equal litigating power in a family law case. This code section dis-incentivizes the party with access to greater financial resources from "burying" the other party with motions or discovery because they will likely be ordered to contribute to the other party's legal fees based on a "need and ability" analysis. In some cases, three may be one party who has access to significant funds, is an attorney, or works in the legal profession. That party may file lawsuits against his or her spouse in other courts in an attempt to distract or financially drain the other party and avoid Family Code §2030. The question becomes, does the family court have any ability to provide the spouse relief from the unfair tactics employed in other civil courts?
Under Family Code § 2030, the Court has the ability to award attorney fees to one party for expenses incurred in any proceeding related to the prosecution or defense of a divorce case. This has been interpreted by California courts to include civil cases filed against one spouse for the purpose of creating a result in the divorce case. In one California case, Husband filed multiple lawsuits, unrelated to the parties' divorce, against Wife in a civil court. Wife was forced to spend significant time and funds defending the suits and was unable to properly focus on the parties' divorce. Wife asked the family court to order Husband to pay the attorney fees she incurred in the civil lawsuits. The family court determined that it had the authority to grant Wife's request under Family Code § 2030 and ordered Husband to pay her attorney fees.