Can I Be Forced to Pay My Spouses’ Attorney Fees in Our Divorce?

Divorce is time consuming and can be expensive. In some cases, you could be required to pay your spouse’s attorney fees to represent them in your divorce case. There are a limited number of instances when this can occur, but it is something every divorce client should be aware of before they decide to stall or otherwise create problems during ongoing divorce proceedings.

Unacceptable Behavior May Lead to Double Divorce Fees

Divorces are messy. While two people may mutually determine it is no longer in their best interest to continue with their marriage, there are a significant number of cases where one spouse is blindsided by the decision to divorce. When the news comes as a shock to someone, they may act out. These action could cost them more than loss of credibility in court, it could also mean they wind up paying for a spouse’s attorney’s fees.

Some of the behavior California courts consider when determining whether a spouse may be required to pay for the other’s attorney include:

Domestic Violence During Proceedings

One thing to be aware of is California’s broader determination of what constitutes a domestic violence incident. These are not just incidents where the victim is struck, although this is domestic violence. A domestic violence charge can also be:

  • Threatening to harm the other party
  • Harassment of an individual
  • Stalking an individual
  • Disturbing the other party’s peace
  • Destroying someone’s property

In addition to facing potential criminal charges, potentially losing your ability to see your child, and losing your rights to possess a firearm for the remainder of your life, you could also be forced to pay your spouse’s legal fees in a divorce. This type of behavior is unwarranted and unwise.

Causing Unwarranted Delays in Divorce Proceedings

California is a community property state, which means any assets a couple accumulates during their lives together will be divided equally in a divorce. However, one party or the other may have come into the relationship with assets (or debts) which would be considered sole property. Claiming assets as sole property which are supposed to be community assets can cause unwarranted delays, and additional lawyer fees for the other spouse. This type of behavior is not acceptable to the courts and could be penalized by forcing them to pay the other’s legal fees.

Delays in reaching an agreement regarding parenting plans, the sale of assets, or other types of delays which are meant to frustrate your soon-to-be ex-spouse versus accomplishing anything concrete can also be penalized by forcing you to pay fees for the other spouse’s legal representative.

The last thing you want is to find out that something you have done in anger is going to result in you paying additional legal costs. When you are working with an experienced family law attorney they will advise you of what is acceptable and unacceptable and help you make better decisions. When you are going through a divorce, anger and frustration are common, but do not allow your emotions to overtake your common sense or it could cost more than time. Let your attorney handle matters as much as possible with your spouse’s attorney, it could help save you hundreds of dollars in additional legal fees.

Financial Standing of Spouses and Legal Fees

California statutes also allow for cases where the courts may order one spouse to pay the other’s attorney fees where there is a proven financial necessity. Remember, one spouse may have more sole debt than the other, one may be unable to work, or one spouse may own a business. In these cases, when one spouse has a better financial standing, it would be considered usual to request the court grant such a request.

The specific statutes which pertain to financial standing are found in California Family Code Chapter 3.5 § 2030Attorney’s Fees and Costs. The court may order this at any time prior to the commencement of proceedings, during proceedings, or at the conclusion of proceedings. This type of order would only be granted where the court found there was a financial need.

Some of the situations where you may be ordered to pay your spouse’s attorney’s fees include:

  • You gained financially during the marriage, your spouse remained at home and raised your family
  • Your spouse is disabled, suffers an illness, or is otherwise unable to secure meaningful employment
  • The sole assets of each spouse are significantly different
  • One spouse could suffer a financial hardship due to legal fees

As you can see, there are various reasons why the court may order one spouse to pay the legal fees of the other. Your family law attorney can explain other situations which may apply in these cases.

Divorce is Complicated — Work with an Experienced Divorce Attorney

When you have been notified your spouse is filing for divorce, you are facing a range of emotions. This is perfectly natural — unfortunately, when we are facing times of crisis, we do not always make the best decisions. While there is little you can do to control the court’s decision to mandate you pay for a spouse’s attorney fees due to financial issues, you alone have control over bad decisions which could result in your paying them unnecessarily.

Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop — A board certified specialist in Family Law

When you need an attorney to represent your interests during a divorce, you should seek the guidance of an attorney who has a solid understanding of the processes in California. At the Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, you will be working with an attorney with more than four decades of experience working to help resolve divorces while protecting the interests of our clients.

Whether you are considering filing for divorce, or you have been informed your spouse has filed for divorce, contact Attorney Bishop to schedule a consultation. Call our office at (619) 724-4148 or complete our online Contact Form.


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To talk to our lawyer about your family law issue in a free telephone consultation, please call our office at 619-299-9780. You may also send us an email. We represent people throughout San Diego County in a host of different family law matters.

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