Under California law, the party who has greater financial means can be ordered to pay the attorney fees of the other party in a Family Law case. Under Family Code Section 2030-2032, in order to “even the playing field” the court can award attorney fees sufficient so that a party may be represented.
As a practical matter, it is more problematic than it appears. Courts do not want to encourage litigious behavior, and as a result tend to be conservative in granting fees. No attorney can really survive depending upon fees.
As just one example, in a case I was counsel on for several years, the court was aware that the other party paid their attorneys more than one million dollars in attorney fees, and granted me $7500 to compensate me for my work against this large, well-funded firm. The case is currently on appeal and it is my hope that the court sends a clear message to the trial court that this decision did not comport with the code, which it clearly did not.