Divorce is emotionally and legally challenging under the best of circumstances, but when you’re facing divorce without money on your side, it’s even more intimidating—especially if your spouse has the funds to hire a great attorney.
Is there any legal recourse when there’s an income disparity between divorcing spouses?
Requesting Temporary Alimony
When there’s a significant income gap between spouses, the lower-earning spouse may petition the court for a temporary order for spousal support (alimony). If you are the lower earner, you may ask the court to order support through a request for order form when you file the divorce petition or as part of your response to a petition for divorce served by your spouse.
Temporary spousal support orders remain in place throughout the divorce process—including the state’s six-month waiting period—to provide for your immediate financial needs. A judge will put the permanent orders in place at the end of the hearing.
Ask The California Court for a Lawyer
If your spouse has significantly higher income or more access to resources, you can petition the court to order them to pay for all or part of your attorney’s fees. A court may order a higher-income spouse to pay for your attorney if you qualify. The court will consider the following:
- Your income and everyday living expenses
- If your spouse has access to more money than you do
- If your spouse has enough income or other financial resources to pay fees for both attorneys
Request for orders, including for attorney fees are available for both petitioners and respondents.
California’s Division of Marital Property Law
Fortunately, even when there’s an income disparity between divorcing spouses, California considers all marital assets as belonging equally to both partners. While each spouse may retain separate assets like property that belonged to them before the marriage or anything they inherited during the marriage, all other assets and property accumulated while they were married up until separation belong equally to both, regardless of which spouse was the higher income earner. Examples of marital property include:
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Retirement plans
- Real estate property
- Valuables, antiques, artwork, and household items
Because the state demands the equal distribution of marital property during a California divorce, after the final divorce decree, you’ll have an equal share of the assets.
The idea behind the equal distribution of marital assets is that one spouse can earn and accumulate assets when the other spouse supports their efforts by maintaining the home and caring for children. When both spouses work, their incomes combine into the marital community. Both spouses are entitled to half of the total, no matter which spouse was the higher or lower earner during the marriage.
Choosing an Uncontested Divorce
It’s always best to have representation by a divorce attorney, but it’s possible to avoid high attorney fees by choosing an uncontested divorce. This typically only works if you and your spouse are open to communicating and compromising to draft your own divorce settlement agreement. This means you’ll have to agree on all matters including the following:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Division of marital assets
- Spousal support
Sometimes professional mediation helps divorcing spouses resolve contentious issues without the need for courtroom litigation. Avoiding court arguments can substantially lower the total cost of a divorce in California.