Recently in Attorney Fees and Costs Category

Upward Modification of Spousal Support Post-Judgment

spousal-support-modify-lottery.jpgSpousal support is a hot topic in divorce not only during the divorce process but also after the parties' divorce judgment has been processed and finalized. We often meet with clients who are currently paying spousal support pursuant to court order and, based on a substantial change in circumstances, would like to request a downward modification of spousal support so they don't have to fork out so much money each month to their ex-spouse. However, we sometimes also get requests from clients who are the recipients of a spousal support award and would like assistance with getting an upward modification of spousal support so that their ex-spouse actually pays them more each month.

A person currently receiving spousal support pursuant to the initial court order may be inclined to seek an upward spousal support modification if, for example, at the time of divorce the spouse receiving spousal support was making a decent living (and thus the need for spousal support was minimal) but post-judgment that spouse lost their job or has health issues that result in an increased need for spousal support to meet that person's reasonable needs. Another potential reason that might pique a person's interest for seeking an upward modification of spousal support includes situations (although quite rare) where the person paying spousal support hits the jackpot on the lottery and arguably now has a much higher ability to pay.

A request for a spousal support modification requires the party seeking the modification to show that there has been a material change of circumstances since the most recent order. The Court will consider whether there has been a significant change in any of the factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 (the same criteria considered for initial order) when making the subsequent modification order, if any. These factors include, among others, the supporting party's ability to pay, balance of hardships to each party, and the needs of each party based on the Marital Standard of Living ("MSOL"). The MSOL is the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties during marriage and is typically measured by the parties' expenditures during marriage, including any funds put towards savings.

spousal-support-modify-arrows.jpgWhile the Court has broad discretion to modify spousal support so long as there has been a material change of circumstances, the Court does not always have jurisdiction to do so. In many cases, spousal support is subject to subsequent modification (or even termination) so long as the spousal support order has not already expired and the court still has jurisdiction over spousal support. However, in accordance with Family Code section 3591(c), if the parties' judgment has a provision that expressly states that the parties agreed to make the spousal support award non-modifiable, then spousal support cannot be modified post-judgment. In the absence of such an agreement, the court retains jurisdiction to make a decision to increase, decrease or terminate support in a later proceeding (post-judgment) pursuant to a request by one of the parties.

It is also important to note that a post-judgment increase in spousal support being granted by the Court is highly unlikely. While there is nothing that prevents the Court from increasing support, it is simply not very common in California Family Law Courts. And even if the Court is willing to entertain the idea of an upward modification of spousal support, the spousal support award would still be capped at an amount that meets the MSOL. Even if you have an experienced attorney on your side it's important to have realistic expectations and understand that getting a significant increase in spousal support, or any increase for that matter, is not very common.

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The Uncovered Secrets of Saving Money in a Divorce

saving-money.jpgAs a family law litigator, I see on a first-hand basis how much clients are shelling out just to get a divorce. The entire process can very quickly take a dramatic toll on someone both financially and emotionally. In today's economy, most of us don't have unlimited funds set aside to spend on a divorce. Instead, we would rather save our pennies for our children's college education, our retirement, our mortgage, paying off student loans, etc. If you are in this situation, consider the little-known secrets below from an attorney's perspective to help you save money on your divorce case.

Organize Your Documents for Your Attorney:
Often times, clients will just drop off a pile of documents that we have to sort through and try to make sense of. Keep in mind that your lawyer will never know your life as well as you do. So make it easier on your lawyer by providing him/her will a three ring binder with tab dividers and make a tab for each of your assets and their supporting documents. This will allow your lawyer to draft your declarations of disclosure much quicker and will reduce the amount of times your lawyer has to call you to get additional documents and information.

Don't Use Your Lawyer as a Therapist:
Sending lengthy emails to your lawyer about non-relevant legal matters or talking on the phone with your lawyer for hours about your situation will only serve to rack up your attorney fees. Unless it's truly relevant to your case, don't copy your lawyer on emails between you and your spouse. And think about getting a therapist to talk to instead of your lawyer. Chances are your therapist's hourly rate will cost much less than your lawyer's.

Email Your Lawyer Instead of Calling or Meeting in Person:
Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly rate. If you call your lawyer, he/she likely won't be available immediately and will instead need to schedule a phone call for a later time. Chances are that preparing for and taking the phone call will take more time than simply responding to an email. Same thing goes for meeting in person. If you just have a few simple questions that need to be answered, a quick email will likely take less time for your lawyer to review and respond rather than meeting with you in person.

Talk to Your Spouse:
It may seem impossible to talk to your spouse if you are amidst a heart-wrenching divorce. But if you can figure out a way to amicably talk to your spouse you will have a chance to settle smaller issues, like the division of household furniture or your frequent flyer miles, without accruing more attorney fees.

Separate Panic from a True Emergency:
Think about whether your situation truly warrants a phone call to your attorney. Perhaps a phone call to the police would better serve your interests. Or if it's 4:00 pm on a Friday and you know that your attorney won't be able to go to court or get ahold of opposing counsel, perhaps you should wait it out.

Choose Your Lawyer Wisely:
Choosing the right lawyer can make all the difference in your divorce case. You want to choose a lawyer who will see you as a valuable and important client at the firm. Hiring the biggest firm in town might cause you to get your case ignored if you don't fit or exceed their client profile. Also, keep in mind that a lawyer who practices exclusively in family law and is a certified family law specialist will likely have more knowledge about the divorce process than a lawyer who just does family law on the side.

Unless Truly Necessary, Avoid Changing Lawyers Mid-Divorce:
If you change lawyers mid-divorce, your new lawyer will have to charge you to review your file and try to catch up, which will likely cost you a considerable amount of money that could have been avoided by just sticking with your original lawyer.

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How Changing Attorneys Can Impact your Family Law Case

changing-attorneys.jpgThere are so many experienced family law attorneys in San Diego that it might be difficult to decide which one you trust to handle your family law matter. In addition, your idea of how your family law matter should be handled can evolve as your case progresses. Especially in complicated divorce cases, litigation can drag out for months or even years. Due to the nature of family law, family law litigants work very closely with their attorneys during the pendency of their actions.

Over time, the attorney and client may reach disagreements about how the case is handled and either party may wish to end the professional relationship. In addition to strategy disagreements, litigants may also change counsel as a result of personality conflicts or other practical impediments to communication. Both the client and attorney may agree to terminate the attorney-client relationship in order to further the client's interest. For instance, the attorney may not have an efficient working relationship with opposing counsel. If the relationship between attorneys becomes too adversarial during the pendency of a case, the entire case could lose focus and become more expensive for both parties. In this type of situation, a change of counsel can give a family law case new direction and focus.

changing-attorneys-butterfly.jpgIf you are a family law litigant and are considering making a change of counsel, it is important to consider how this change may affect your case. First, hiring a new attorney will undoubtedly result in additional attorney fees and delay in your matter. Although your first attorney should not continue to charge you following formal withdraw as your attorney of record, your second attorney will need to "catch up" on your case. The time required for a new attorney to get up to speed on your case will depend on the size of your file, the level of litigation and how long your case has progressed for. The time spent by your new attorney getting up to speed will have a direct impact on the cost of your change of counsel. The longer the new attorney spends reviewing the case file prepared by your former attorney, the more expensive the transition will be.

Family law litigants should not change attorneys as a tactic to delay litigation. If an attorney feels the other side has changed counsel in order to stall the proceedings, he or she can file a motion for sanctions. If the judge determines that the litigant has interfered with the policy of fair dealing and settlement in family law proceedings, he or she will sanction (fine) the offending party.

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Jury Trial for a Divorce - Good or Bad Idea?!

divorce-jury.jpgIn most states, the right to a jury trial in a divorce proceeding does not exist. In California, no such right exists. Rather, all divorces in California will be heard solely by the Judge, not a jury. However, in a limited number of states, including Texas and Georgia, whether you are the spouse who filed for divorce or the spouse who received a divorce petition, you have the option to request a jury trial during your divorce proceeding. Most of these states limit the right for a jury to only decide certain issues. In New York, for example, the circumstances are very narrow; a jury is only allowed to decide whether the parties meet the state criteria for divorce.

Texas offers the jury trial rights most broadly. In Texas, the jury consists of 12 jurors who may decide a number of issues. However, certain issues are still reserved for the Judge to decide. For example, the jurors in Texas can decide the issue of child custody, but the Judge will be the one to decide visitation and child support. Jurors in Texas can also determine the value of the assets, and determine which assets are considered separate property versus community property. However, the Judge will be the one to actually determine the division of such assets.

Offering the option of a jury trial in divorce proceedings is a hot topic of dispute. Supporters of offering a jury trial argue that it helps to ensure fairness by thwarting the Judge's potential bias. Many also support jury trials because they believe that it gives litigants more of an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Another benefit of offering the option of a jury trial in a divorce proceeding is that it encourages parties to try and settle outside of court, since a jury trial is a risk for both sides no matter what the facts of the case are.

divorce-jury-scales.jpgHowever, many oppose the idea of a jury trial in a divorce because they aren't keen on the idea of having the details of their private lives displayed before a dozen strangers. Additionally, divorce proceedings are expensive enough. Adding the option for a jury trial is likely to cause the divorce proceeding to be even more time consuming and expensive

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Is My Credit Doomed During a Divorce?

Financial-tug-of-war.jpgIt seems like we all spend so long trying to build good credit over the years just for it to be ruined with a snap of the fingers. A divorce doesn't have to be the culprit in ruining your credit. If you take certain measures while going through a divorce, you can help protect your credit rather than sending it and your financial future to its demise.

Review Your Credit Report
The first step in protecting your credit is to get a copy of your credit report. Once you have a copy of your report it is important to thoroughly review it so that you are well aware of all individual and joint accounts. Perhaps you forgot about a department store credit card that you opened quite some time ago. Reviewing your credit report will get you up to speed on all of your accounts.

Closely Monitor Joint Accounts
financial-credit-cards.jpgAfter reviewing your credit report and refreshing your memory of all of your accounts, the next step is to closely monitor them, especially the joint accounts. During or after the divorce, transferring or closing accounts might not occur as quickly as you hope. During this time, it is important that you monitor those accounts closely and catch any missed payments (even if your ex-spouse has agree to make the payment) before your credit gets damaged. If you can't access the account statements online it would behoove you to request the lender to send you a copy of the account statement each month.

Be Budget Savvy

During a divorce, many people tend to feel like they are drowning financially, either due to various expenses related to the divorce or from frivolous spending habits as a result of the emotional affect that divorce tends to have. The best thing to do in order to tackle the financial woes associated with divorce is to create, implement and track a post-divorce budget that takes into account your income and all of your expenses. Being budget conscious will help you to not allow your expenses to exceed your income and hopefully leave you with a whole lot less debt.

Be Mindful of Authorized Users on Credit Cards
After reviewing your credit report you will be able to note which accounts your spouse is listed on as an authorized user. Being listed as an authorized user means that the person has permission to use the credit card to rack up charged but that he or she is not responsible for paying the bill. This is different than joint credit in which both parties are responsible for paying. If you notice that your ex-spouse is listed as an authorized user, it might be worth it to give the credit card company a call and remove his or her name to avoid any additional problems.

Although divorces can be extremely emotionally draining and time consuming, it's crucial to your future that you do not to push your finances to the back burner. Being proactive about managing your credit during your divorce will surely help you post-divorce.

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How to Work Well with Your Divorce Attorney

Attorney-client-consultation.jpgOne of the first things that most people do when they decide to get a divorce is to find, interview and hire a divorce attorney to help them through the divorce process. The relationship that you develop with your divorce attorney is an important one as it will likely continue throughout the entire divorce process and even possibly years down the line. Depending on how well you work with your divorce attorney can have quite a significant impact on the pace of your divorce proceeding and the amount of legal fees you will incur. The best way to ensure that you work well with your divorce attorney is to outline your expectations and understand what your attorney expects from you in return.

What You Should Expect From Your Attorney

After hiring an attorney some things that you should expect from him or her include the following:
1) Your attorney should begin with developing a strategy.
2) Your attorney should explain your options to you and help you decide which route to take.
3) Your attorney should consult with you before making any major actions.
4) Your attorney should return your phone calls and/or emails within a reasonable time frame.

On the other hand, you should not expect your divorce attorney to act as a therapist for your emotional issues relative to the divorce, nor should you expect your divorce attorney to act like the attorneys you see on television or to act unethically to appease your unrealistic or illegal expectations.

Understanding What Your Attorney Expects from You

In order for your divorce attorney to attempt to meet and perhaps even surpass your expectations, it is essential that you also understand what your divorce attorney expects from you in return throughout his or her representation of you.

Shortly after hiring a divorce attorney, he or she will likely ask you to provide and produce a significant amount of information and documentation. When your divorce attorney does so, it is very important that you respond in a quick, concise and complete manner. More importantly, it is vital that you always tell your attorney the truth, even when it might be unpleasant, embarrassing or not in your favor. It's very important that you maintain a trusting relationship with your attorney if you want to get the best possible representation and avoid backtracking (i.e. more legal fees for you).

In addition, your attorney will expect you to be well prepared and willing to openly listen to his or her advice. And as you likely suspect, your attorney will also expect to be paid in full and on time

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How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II

prepare-family-law-court.jpgMy previous blog, "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I" I discussed how to mentally prepare for court, what to bring with you to court and what to do when you arrive at court. Part II aims to prepare you for your day in court by helping you becoming oriented with who you will see in court and how the proceeding will occur.

Who You Can Expect to See In Court

As you likely know, from watching a little too much Law and Order perhaps, the judge is the person who presides over the court. However, there are no jury trials in family law in California. In addition to the judge, there are typically three other people in most courtrooms: the bailiff, the court clerk and the court reporter.

The bailiff is a uniformed officer and is usually the first person that you will talk to when you check into the courtroom. The bailiff's primary job is to maintain order in the courtroom. The bailiff also acts as the middleman in handing documents from the attorneys/parties to the court clerk or to the judge directly.

The court clerk sits near the judge and is in charge of managing the court. Prior to the morning calendar, the court clerk will give the judge all of the case files. Once court is in session, the court clerk will be the one to administer the oath to any witnesses and also serve as a clerical assistant to the judge.

The court reporter is the person who is in charge of recording everything that is said while the court is in session. Following the hearing, you or your attorney may request the court reporter to prepare a transcript, which is a verbatim script of the court proceedings.

Typical Order of Events in Court

Calendar Call: The first thing the judge will do once he takes the bench is to do a calendar call in alphabetical order to determine how many cases are going to be heard and the time estimate for each. Based on this information, the judge can put the cases in the order of his choosing. Once the calendar call is completed, the judge will typically call the cases with the shortest time estimates first.

Statement of Appearances: Once your case is called, both the attorneys and the parties will step forward and take their place at their respective tables (Petitioner on the left of the podium and Respondent on the right of the podium). The attorneys will state their appearances for the record. If you are not represented by legal counsel then you are responsible for stating your own appearance.

Administer Oath: Next, the court clerk will administer the oath to both parties and instruct them to raise their right hands and say "I do". This means that your testimony will be given under penalty of perjury such that you can be convicted of a crime if you knowingly tell a lie during your testimony.

Determine Resolved and Unresolved Issues:

Before the actual hearing begins, the judge will want to determine which issues, if any, have been settled by agreement and which ones still remain unresolved. The judge will review any written agreements or listen to statements regarding settled issues. The judge will then ask the parties if they understand the agreement and then he/she will typically make a statement accepting the stipulation and confirming that the agreement is a court order. Once this is completed the actual hearing will begin.

Continue reading "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II" »

How Much Will My California Divorce Cost?

One of the most common questions asked in an initial divorce consultation is "how much will this divorce cost me?" Many prospective clients are surprised when divorce attorneys answer "I have no idea". The only concrete information a family law attorney can provide clients regarding the cost of their divorce matter is the filing fees imposed by the courts ($435 in 2013). Other than basic hard costs and billing methods, divorce attorneys can provide clients with little information regarding the cost of their divorce at the initial consultation because the overall cost is based on a combination of the following factors.

California-divorce-cost.jpgThe Client: A family law client has the ability to greatly influence the cost of his or her divorce. If the client needs a lot of counseling or "hand holding" his or her bills will generally be much higher because the clients repeated phone calls and e-mails substantially increase the time an attorney devotes to the case. Considering the fact that a vast majority of family law attorneys charge an hourly billing rate, daily e-mails and phone calls could potentially add up to thousands of dollars per month.

The Opposing Party: Generally the attitude of the opposing party falls into one of a few categories: (1) emotionally stable and ready to move on with his or her life, (2) angry, vindictive, and willing to do anything to "get back at" his or her spouse, (3) hopeful that the parties can reconcile and therefore doing everything possible to delay the divorce process or (4) self-proclaimed victim who is busy feeling sorry for him/herself. If the opposing party wishes to drag out the divorce process, for whatever reason, there are endless methods of doing this. Delay is particularly easy for a non-represented party who does not incur attorney fees by filing countless motions, propounding burdensome discovery, or litigating every small issue.

The Opposing Counsel: Just like repeated communication with the client can increase attorney fees, onerous correspondence from the opposing attorney can greatly increase the cost of a divorce. This is because attorneys generally have a duty to read and respond to all pleadings and correspondence from the other side. Further, family law attorneys generally have a reputation for either working amicably with the other side to reach a mutually beneficial agreement whenever possible or for using their client's vulnerable state to fuel litigation for their own financial gain. Therefore, the general practice of the opposing attorney will likely minimize or increase the overall cost of divorce.

Judge-divorce-court.jpgThe Judge/Court: Every family law judge in San Diego is different. As such, every judge has a different calendar, schedule, and view of each case. Many of the court calendars are impacted and family law motions go months before being heard.

Number/Complexity of Contested Issues: The number and complexity of the contested issues in a divorce case is a major factor in the overall cost. For example, if the parties were married for 15 years but have no children, no real property, no retirement accounts/savings, and both earn similar incomes there will be few issues to litigate. However, if the parties were married for three years but have two minor children, retirement accounts, own a home and only one spouse works, the parties will have to address property division, custody and visitation, and support issues. The more contested issues that exist, the longer and more expensive the divorce will be. However, if the contested issues are not complex, a simple hearing will generally resolve the disputes and keep costs low.

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Attorney Fees in Family Law for Distraction Tactics

Access to legal representationFamily 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:

"In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage...and in any proceeding subsequent to the entry of a related judgment the Court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation."

buried with form interrogatoriesThe 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.

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Celebrity Divorce - Brendan Fraser Fights to Lower his Support Obligations

Celebrity_Divorce.jpgBrendan Fraser and Afton Smith married in 1998 and divorced nine years later in 2007. At the time of their divorce, Fraser was ordered to pay Smith approximately $900,000 per year for spousal support and child support for their three children. Now, Fraser claims that he can no longer make the required payments, which, if made on a monthly basis, total $75,000 per month. Fraser has filed a motion in family court seeking a post-judgment modification of child and spousal support.

In San Diego, after a divorce is finalized, family courts generally have the ability to change support orders if facts and circumstances have materially changed since the first orders were made. If the moving party can prove to the court a "material change of circumstances" he or she may be granted a post-judgment modification of support. One of the most common changes of circumstance relied upon by courts is a change in income for one or both parties. If the spouse ordered to pay support has experienced a significant decrease in earnings, the court may lower his or her support obligation.

However, it is important to note that San Diego family courts only have the ability to modify the support order back to the date a motion was filed. If one spouse gets fired and does not file a motion to modify support for a few months, he or she may owe a significant amount of back child and/or spousal support. Regardless of a spouse's current income, his or her obligation to pay support will not change until a motion is filed with the court. Even in cases where a judge determines that a material change of circumstances exists and that support should be modified going forward, he or she is not required by law to make the order retroactive to the date the motion was filed.

Learn commonly used divorce law terms

Fraser alleges that he has had an increasingly difficult time finding acting jobs since the third film in the "Mummy" franchise wrapped in 2008. However, according to IMDB, Fraser has worked on 17 projects since then. Smith claims that Fraser is lying to the court about his true income and hiding his assets. Smith has good reason to be suspicious of his earnings claims. At the time of their divorce, Fraser claimed that he would make $0 from future acting work. In fact he went on to star in movies grossing up to $2 billion worldwide. When confronted with this information, Fraser claimed deals like this were not "set in stone" at the time of his divorce. It is crucial for a spouse to present an accurate depiction of his or her income to the court in a family law case. If Fraser is in fact misleading the court and his ex-wife, he may face harsh penalties and sanctions.

Please contact us if you are contemplating legal separation, thinking of learning about divorce, or have questions regarding division of assets in divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorce, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights.

Divorce - Kristen Stewart's Affair with Rupert Sanders Destroys his Marriage

In July 2012, Us Weekly released photos of Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, and Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders', cheating scandal. Stewart and Sanders were photographed kissing in a parked car on the side of a secluded road. At the time, Stewart was involved in a serious relationship with teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson, and Sanders was married to British model Liberty Ross. Although Stewart and Pattinson reconciled in September, Ross has recently filed for divorce from her husband of nine years.


Ross and Sanders reportedly gave their marriage another shot after news of the cheating scandal broke and even attended marriage counseling. However, Ross was unable to move past her husband's public infidelity. The former couple has two children, Skyla, age 7, and Tennyson, age 5. In her Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Ross requested joint custody of the children in addition to spousal support and attorney fees. Sanders filed a Response to the Petition also requesting joint custody but not spousal support. Sanders wants each party to bear the cost of his or her own attorney fees.

Learn more about the divorce process in Del Mar

Ross retained celebrity divorce attorney, Laura Wasser, to represent her in her divorce. Wasser is most famous for her representation of celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Ryan Reynolds, Kim Kardashian, and Britney Spears. According to Los Angeles Times, Wasser's services will cost Ross $750 per hour. With rates that high, it's no surprise that she is asking the court to order Sanders to cover Wasser's fees. As Del Mar divorce attorneys are well aware, California courts have the authority to order one spouse to contribute toward the attorney fees and costs incurred by the other spouse. However, since California is a "no-fault" state, Sanders' infidelity will be irrelevant to all of the court's rulings.

Family Code §3557 was enacted to ensure that both spouses have access to legal representation to preserve their rights. This code section applies to limited circumstances including actions in which a supported spouse requests enforcement of an existing order for spousal support. In determining whether an award of attorney fees and costs is appropriate under Family Code §3557, the court must consider the following two factors:

(1) whether there is a disparity in access to funds to retain counsel, and;

(2) whether one party is able to pay for legal representation for both parties.

Thus, if one party has significantly more resources than the other and is able to pay for both parties' legal representation, a court may order him or her to do so in limited cases. Because Ross is not seeking enforcement of an existing support order, she will likely not be award attorney fees under Family Code §3557.

Read on about Del Mar divorce procedure here.

A request for attorney fees may be made during the pendency of a divorce pursuant to Family Code §2030. Family Code §2030 has similar requirements as §3557; however, allows for a request to be made for purposes other than to enforce existing orders. Thus, Ross is likely requesting an award for attorney fees pursuant to this code section.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Will Kim Kardashion pay Kris Humphries' Attorney fees in CA? reports that Kris Humphries has filed legal documents in his divorce case appointing himself as his own lawyer. Now certainly Humphries, who also according to, makes $8 million dollars a year with the New Jersey Nets, can afford a lawyer. But what if he couldn't afford a lawyer? Could he request that Kim Kardashian pay his attorney fees and costs?

When one party has a need for attorney fees and costs, and the other party has an ability to pay (or make a contribution to) those attorney fees and costs, the court may grant an attorney fee request.

A new California Rule of Court governs requests for attorney fees and costs based on financial need as described in FC sections 2030, 2032, 3121, 3557 and 7605.

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Settlement in San Diego Divorce Cases

The State of Alaska is reforming the way a divorce case proceeds through the court system. The new program named the Early Resolution Project is aimed at resolving divorce cases quickly and efficiently. One distinguishing characteristic of Early Resolution is the emphasis on settlement. Under the program, the Anchorage Superior Court addresses several divorce cases in one afternoon on a biweekly basis. On this afternoon, the parties are give free legal advice and encouraged to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.


Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides envisioned the program as a result of her experience in the Alaskan family court system. She was concerned because many divorce cases are assigned a court date that is several months after the initial filing. This waiting period caused the parties to become firm in their positions and unwilling to compromise. Judge Joannides proposed to attempt to resolve these divorce cases early in the process and has seen promising results. In the first year, eighty percent of cases settled as a result of Early Resolution.

Besides a quick resolution to the case, the Early Resolution program and others like it offer a number of fringe benefits to the parties. Like any case that settles early in the litigation process, a divorce settlement can save the parties a great amount of money. Litigating a family law case in San Diego involves filing fees, court costs and attorney's fees. If a case settles early, the parties will not be responsible for any further costs and fees. Another benefit to dispute resolution is the preservation of the relationship between the parties. Litigation has the tendency to ruin the relationship between the parties indefinitely. However, in family law cases involving children, it is crucial for the parents to maintain a co-parenting relationship. Although the California Family Code is often clear, family court judges have an element of unpredictability. The facts of a case may be disputed and therefore the outcome can be uncertain. If parties reach a settlement they are in control of the outcome of the case. In family law cases, the outcome often has life-changing consequences for both parties. In order to have input in the final decision, the parties much reach an agreement.

The San Diego family court system has a program similar to Alaska's Early Resolution Project. In San Diego, the family court judge will assign the parties a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) date before any case will proceed to trial. Unlike in Alaska, the MSC will occur toward the end of the parties' case. The MSC will take place at the San Diego Superior Court where the parties have been litigating their case. A settlement conference judge will be assigned to the case. These judges are experienced local family law attorneys who have volunteered their time to help parties resolve their cases before trial. Because they have so much experience with San Diego family law, the settlement judges are able to help the parties predict what the judge will likely do at trial and reach a settlement agreement based on the probable outcome. The benefit to reaching an agreement during the MSC is avoiding trial. The parties are able to avoid the cost, time and emotional toll of a trial.

Alaska's Early Resolution Project also relies on local attorneys to volunteer their time to help needy clients. These attorneys are able to get family law experience without becoming entrenched in long drawn-out cases. Before the biweekly court appearance, the volunteers are able to scan the divorce case file and begin to formulate possible solutions for the parties. A MSC is slightly more formal in this respect. The parties to an MSC are required to submit a Settlement Conference Brief to the settlement judge at least five court days prior to the MSC outlining the disputed issues and their proposed solutions.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

The Impact of New Mate or Partner Income on Attorney Fees

November 29, 2011

As a San Diego Divorce Attorney, when a client remarries, he or she often wonders if their new spouse's income will impact child support and spousal support. Recently, a client in the midst of a divorce in which status was previously granted (meaning the parties were no longer married) but the issues of spousal support and attorney fees were not yet resolved, who was about to remarry, asked about the impact of new spouse income on the issue of spousal and child support.

Previously, I blogged about the impact of new mate income on child support and spousal support orders. To summarize:

1) For child support, except in "extraordinary cases," new spouse or non-marital partner income is generally not considered when calculating guideline child support, although the court may inquire into a new spouse's income for the purpose of seeing how it would impact the remarried party's tax filing status and tax bracket when calculating guideline child support.

2) With regard to spousal support:
(a) For the spouse receiving spousal support, spousal support usually terminates when he or she remarries, and there is a presumption of a decreased need for spousal support of he or she is cohabitating with a member of the opposite sex.
(b) For the spouse paying spousal support, the new spouse/partner income is not considered when determining or modifying spousal support.

After explaining this to the client, I was asked if the new spouse income would have any impact on the prior spouse's request for attorney fees. The client wondered if the court would consider the new spouse's income when considering the prior spouse's request for attorney fees. My initial thought was there should not be any consideration of new spouse income, however after conducting some research, I found a 2009 case, Alan S. v. Superior Court , which held while new mate or partner income is generally irrelevant in child support matters, it is not statutorily irrelevant in pendente lite fee orders.

However, after a closer analysis of the underlying facts in that case, we believe the holding is limited to a narrow circumstances, as it was more of a case regarding how the court, in low and middle income cases, can achieve the legislative goal of assuring that each party has access to legal representation to preserve each party's right.

In Alan S., after a string of custody hearings and orders, the trial court ordered Husband to pay $9,000 to Wife for her attorney fees at rate of $300 per month. Representing himself, Husband appealed the decision challenging the attorney fee order. Husband claimed the order impacted his own ability to retain counsel.

The Court of Appeal found that the challenged orders appear to assure that, while Wife is well represented by obviously able and diligent counsel, Husband will be left to "haplessly flail away" and reversed the attorney fee order, with directions to the trial court to hold another hearing to consider all relevant matters affecting Wife'sfee request, including factors such as Husband's $800/mo deficit financed by credit cards; the assets of parties, including equity in residences; Husband's inability to afford to visit the children; Husband's $25,000 credit card debt for previous attorney and $1,800 per month child support obligation; and the new mate or "significant other" income of each party (Husband was cohabitating and Wife had remarried).

The Appeal Court's decision relied on Family Code §2032, which requires court to consider parties' needs considering the factors listed in Family Code §4320. Reading statutes together, the Appeal Court believed the statutes make it clear that the pendente lite fee award should be the product of a nuanced process in which the trial court tries to get the 'big picture' of the case, i.e., 'the relative circumstances of the respective parties'. In the Alan S. case, the trial court took a truncated approach, and the record did not show that the trial court considered a number of the relevant factors bearing on the case, including the new mate or "significant other" income of each party.

The Court of Appeal also relied on a case called In re Marriage of Geraci , in finding that the new mate or significant other income was relevant for attorney fee awards because of "possible economies of scale," coupled with the "expansive language of Family Code §2032--the relevant circumstances of the respective parties."

The case was remanded to the trial court. The trial court, on remand, would have to consider new mate and significant other income (among other factors) when reconsidering the attorney fee award, however, the final orders that were made by the trial court are unknown.

It seems that new spouse or significant other income only came into play in the Alan S. case because the attorney fee award prevented Husband from being able to afford to retain counsel for an upcoming custody hearing, while Wife was able to afford to retain counsel. More significant than new spouse or significant other income are the issues of need and ability to pay under Family Code Section §2030, as well as many of the other Family Code §4320 factors, such as the income, assets and liabilities of the parties.

Divorce Litigation: Can My Spouse Pay For My Attorney?

Did you happen to catch CNBC's documentary Divorce Wars when it premiered last weekend? Promoted as "CNBC goes inside the confidential world of multi-million dollar divorce revealing the secrets of winning and losing on a battle field of emotional pain and financial gain", the show highlighted, among other stories, the creation of Balance Point Funding, a company that provides money from private investors to fund divorce litigation in exchange for a percentage of the divorce settlement. According to its founder, Stacy Napp, the idea for the company was born from the challenges she faced in funding her own divorce litigation.

While creative, this is not the only option for a divorcing spouse in California. Rather, as a San Diego Divorce attorney, I regularly file motions for a contribution from the other spouse to my client's attorney fees under Family Code Section 2030. This type of a motion is appropriate where there is a disparity between the parties in access to funds to retain counsel (in other words, "need"), and where one party is able to pay for legal representation of both parties (in other words, "ability"). The statute is designed to ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including access early in the proceedings, to preserve their respective rights.

While Family Code section 2030 addresses the allocation of attorney fees and cost, what about costs other than attorney fees and costs, such as court costs, expert fees and consultant fees? Family Code section 2032 provides a procedure by which either party may file a motion requesting that the court designate their case as complex or involving substantial issues of fact or law related to property rights, visitation, custody, or support. If the case is then designated as complex, the court has the discretion to allocate between the parties attorney fees and also court costs, expert fees, and consultant fees.