In the very recent appellate decision, In Re Marriage of Sorge (Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division One, filed January 5, 2012.), the Court takes up the issue of “need” for the basis of awarding a contribution of attorney fees from one spouse payable to the other spouse. In this case, Husband was the higher earner with over $64 million in liquid assets. Wife wasn’t doing too badly herself with about $14 million, half of it liquid. Wife asked the Court to award attorney fees to her payable by Husband.
The Trial Court awarded Wife $200,000 in fees for filing her post-judgment motion for fees and other issues and $60,000 for fees on appeal. Well, as you can see the Husband appealed this award and what do you think the appellate court did here? They affirmed the decision! Why you ask? The Court explained that even though Husband had a net worth of about $64 million and Wife had a net worth of about $14 million, the award of attorney fees was based on RELATIVE need, not just need alone.
Thus, the Court interpreted Family Code, Section 2030, which governs fee awards to mean that the Court is supposed to base its fee awards on the relative financial circumstances of the parties which includes consideration of the parties’ relative incomes, assets, obligations, and other relevant financial factors. Here, it didn’t matter that Wife could pay her own attorney fees, Husband was in a better financial position relative to Wife, and could more easily make this contribution toward her fees.