In Marriage of Sharples, 2014 DJDAR 823 (2014), the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District overturned the outright rejection of a request for fees by the trial court. The judge rejected the fee claim on technical grounds: the failure to file proper Judicial Council forms in support of the application for fees.
A husband and wife were engaged in marriage dissolution proceedings. The wife filed a request for the husband to pay her $20,000 in attorney fees pursuant to Family Code Section 2030. That statute is intended to provide financial parity between the parties at the outset of dissolution proceedings. In support of the request, she submitted a declaration stating that the husband was the chief executive officer of a company with significant annual income. The wife was also employed at the company but earned only $700 per month.
Her attorney also submitted a declaration in support of the application, including his billing rates, and the request for an accountant to assist on the case. The husband opposed the fee application. The family court judge then denied the request for fees on the grounds that the wife failed to fill out and submit Judicial Council form FL‑319 in support of the application.
The wife appealed the trial court’s decision and the Court of Appeal reversed.
The Court of Appeal noted that Family Code Section 2030 authorizes the family court to award reasonable attorney fees and costs based on financial need. The court is required to balance the parties’ financial resources in making a decision.
Rule 5.93(a) of the California Rules of Court provides that the party making the request must file and serve a set of documents, including Judicial Council form FL‑319, entitled “Request for Attorney’s Fees and Costs Attachment.” The court noted, however, that in lieu of this form, the party may file a declaration that addresses the factors set forth in Judicial Council form FL‑319.
Because Rule 5.93(a) gave the fee applicant an option to file either a form FL‑319 or a comparable declaration, the Court of Appeal concluded that the wife properly complied with the applicable rules. The court overturned the decision on that basis.