Can I Make My Spouse Pay My Divorce Attorney’s Fees?

Divorce can bring a lot of contention to the table, from spousal and child support to custody arrangements and the division of property. Divorces can be expensive, especially if they drag into lengthy litigation. For this reason, you might wonder if you can force your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees, especially if their action (such as infidelity) spurred the divorce. Such considerations may seem like due justice served, but justice rarely has a place in a family law courtroom.

California Law Regarding Attorney’s Fees

At the same time, California law stipulates two main situations in which a party can collect attorney’s fees. These include:

  • Disorderly conduct. If you believe that your spouse deliberately engaged in disorderly conduct in order to delay the settlement of the case, you may be able to recover some of your attorney’s fees in the form of sanctions. On the other hand, filing a sanction is a separate legal proceeding that may cost thousands of additional dollars. For this reason, your family law attorney may advise against it.
  • True disparity in income. The second instance in which a party may get their spouse to pay legal fees is if they can prove a large disparity in income and assets that would bar their ability to pay. On the other hand, this is up to the discretion of a family law judge, and there should be little disparity of income and assets following a divorce proceeding.

In other words, you will likely be responsible for your own attorney’s fees following a California divorce proceeding. Often, the cost of pursuing sanctions is equal to or more than paying the attorney’s fees themselves, so a trial will cost more than your claim is worth.

Extreme Circumstances and Bad Faith

Often, a judge will only move for a party to pay the other person’s attorney’s fees when there is an instance of “bad faith.” Examples of bad faith include:

  • Hiding assets
  • Making false allegations about the other spouse
  • Refusing to negotiate
  • Purposely failing to hand in documents

These all lengthen a divorce proceeding and hence may cost you more money in attorney’s fees. As a result, a judge may order that the other party pay attorney’s fees if their actions stemmed from true maleficence.

It’s important to note that “bad faith” is different from being unfaithful. You can’t get your spouse to pay for your attorney’s fees because they cheated on you. California is a no-fault divorce state, so the court does not consider who is responsible for the dissolution of marriage when making its decisions. This includes decisions regarding the payment of attorney’s fees.

In summation, there are very few instances in which the courts will order a spouse to pay another’s legal fees. Exceptions include bad faith or true disparities in income, but these exceptions are rare. If you feel you may be entitled to payment of your attorney’s fees, talk to your family law attorney about your options. They will be able to provide further guidance in this regard and can help you decide on your next actions.