Introduction: Similar to other professional fields (medicine, dentistry, etc.), fees are incurred when individuals utilize the services of an attorney. Attorney fees, like fees in other professional fields, have a range depending on the amount of legal work that needs to be performed. This range starts as low as $1,500. Again, it depends on the amount of legal work that the attorney has to perform for the party.
Retainer Fee: In Family Law, attorneys ask for a retainer amount before agreeing to represent a party. And, attorneys require the party to replenish the retainer to some predefined level when the retainer amount falls below a predefined level. Monies resting in the party’s retainer account belongs to the party, not the attorney. And, when the attorney performs legal work for the party monies are only then transferred from the party’s retainer account to the attorney’s account. When a case closes or the attorney-client relationship ends, any monies still in the party’s retainer account is returned to the party.
Hourly Rate and Minimum Time Level: Attorneys bill at an hourly rate. At Nakos and Nakos, our attorneys either bill at a $350.00 hourly rate. There are also paralegal and secretarial billing rates. At Nakos and Nakos, our paralegal rate is $100.00 per hour and our secretarial rate is $50.00 per hour.
Many attorneys have a minimum time level that they charge for the legal work they perform. For example, some attorneys have a minimum 10 minute time level for telephone calls, a minimum time level of 30 minutes for reviewing correspondence, pleadings, etc., and a minimum time level of 1 hour for reviewing a case file. At Nakos and Nakos, we do not have any minimum time levels and only charge a client for the actual time spent doing a legal task.
Court and Related Costs: There are other costs related to a legal proceeding besides attorney fees. First, the State of California charges fees for filing (originating) a case, filing motions, filing Request for Orders, mediation services, etc. If a party qualifies, the State of California will waive the fees that they charge. There are also subpoena fees charged by the responding business (banks, credit card providers, police departments, medical providers, etc.) for their production of business records. There are attorney services fees for the official serving of Summons, subpoenas, etc. When used, there are also expert witness fees (forensic accounts, vocational evaluators, custody evaluators, forensic medical professionals, etc.). Generally, expert witness are the most costly non-attorney fees that a party will incur. And, unlike Nakos and Nakos, some attorneys charge a fee for fax services, paper and toner usage fees, etc.
Attorney and Court Related Fee Recovery: During any Family Law proceeding a party can recover the attorney fees and court related costs that they incur from the opposing party if they satisfy specific legal statutes. There are three basic types of fee base recovery statutes: Needs Based, Sanction Based, and Enforcement Based.
Needs Based: There are situations were one spouse simply cannot afford to be represented by an attorney while the other spouse has ample financial resources to not only pay their attorney fees but the attorney fees of the other party. In cases such as these, Family Code Sections 2030 and 2032 allows the financially disadvantaged party to request the Court order the financially advantaged party to pay for their attorney fees and court related costs or to reimbursed them for the attorney fees and court related fees that has already been spent. Such attorney fees awards can be as high as the actually costs incurred or required for proper legal representation to some portion (contribution) of incurred costs. The Court has broad discretion in making attorney fees and costs awards and such awards are based off the present circumstances of the parties, their ability to pay attorney fees, and the reasonableness of actually making such an attorney fees award.
Sanction Based: At times during a Family Law proceeding one spouse does things that frustrates the policy of the law that promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, increases the cost of litigation through reasonable cooperation between the parties and attorneys. In cases such as these, Family Code Section 271 allows the party that is not frustrating the policy of the law that promotes settlement (the reasonable party) to seek reimbursement from the party whose conduct is frustrating the policy of the law that promotes settlement (the unreasonable party). This sort of attorney fees award is not needs based, but is designed as a punitive measure against a party that is intentionally frustrating settlement.
Enforcement Based: At times, one spouse exhibits conduct that violates Family Law statutes or Family Law orders, thus requiring the other spouse to seek help from the Court to enforce these statutes and orders. Such conduct includes a spouse refusing to respond to discovery requests or refusing to obey previously issued and valid Court orders (child visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, etc.). Family Law Code Sections 292, 3557, and 4720 and Code of Civil Procedure Sections 1211.5, 2015.5, 2023.010, 2025.420, 2030.290, 2031.300, and 2033.290 provide a spouse with methods of enforcement and recovery of their enforcement costs. In cases such as these, the spouse seeking enforcement can request that the Court order the other spouse to pay all of their attorney fees and court costs related to the enforcement action.