At a recent Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) training session, I and Commissioner Louise Bayles-Fightmaster made a presentation on attorney fees in family law cases. Commissioner Bayles-Fightmaster served on the Elkins Task Force, and continues to serve on the Task Force implementing committee. Pursuant to the Task Force recommendations, several changes have been made in the statutes pertaining to, and the practical management of, attorney fees. Guiding these changes is a strong policy push, as Garrett Dailey puts it, to ‘award fees early and frequently’ in order to ensure parity between the parties and equal access to justice.
To effectuate these changes, the AOC was tasked with implementing a new court rule and brand new forms for attorney fees. At the AOC training session, draft versions of the new forms were made available for discussion and comment. Final versions of these forms will be released for comment on 20 April 2011.
You may view the AOC draft versions of the new forms right now on my website, at www. privatejudge.org. After April 20, final versions of these forms for comment will also be on my website. Feel free to take the time to register your comments with the AOC through its web site, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/invitationstocomment/acommentform.htm.
Of particular note is the fact that an unrepresented party can now request fees in advance for the purpose of obtaining counsel. Thus, a financially disadvantaged party will now be able to request that funds be taken out of the pocket of the other side, thereby reducing that party’s available litigation funds, achieving representational parity, establishing early on the cost of litigation for both parties and in the end, coming up with the funds necessary to hire an attorney.
Also important is that the requirement in FC 2032 has been softened so as to allow the court more latitude in dealing with attorney fees in instances of complex litigation. The court can now clearly authorize the appointment of a CCP 639 Referee to determine the issue of fees.
The substance of the presentation is on my website under AOC presentation if you wish to review it in more detail.