Family Code section 7640 - "Attorney Fees in Paternity Cases"

THURMAN'S TIPS FOR RECOVERING PATERNITY LAWYER'S FEES

Family Code Section 7640:

Can I Obtain Attorney Fees In My Uniform Parentage Case?

Family Code section 7640 authorizes orders for reasonable attorney fees and costs for all parties and their representatives in proceedings involving the establishment of the parent-child relation, under California's Uniform Parentage Act. For biological reasons, it is typically men who must obtain a formal adjudication of parentage of children. Without such a determination, mothers are not required to grant dad's custody or visitation. This section is intend to allow any party to seek and recover their lawyer fees and costs. It is much broader though, and also includes fees for counsel for the minor child, guardians, and others.

Because the statute references "proportions," family court judges are required in paternity cases to fix fees for one party in a manner that considers attorney fees required by another. This statute also covers the costs of determining parentage. Not all California attorney fee statutes explicitly reference the word "reasonable" when determining how much to award, although certainly that concept is implicit. However, the inclusion of that term supports an argument that the legislature has directed that family court judges be somewhat constrained in terms of amounts, a point I would argue if I was defending against an attorney fee request.

Realistically, a man who seeks to recover his lawyer's fees against the child's mother won't gain much traction unless (a) the parties' relative incomes strongly favor her and (b) she has unreasonably denied that the plaintiff father is the bio-dad, possibly to cut him out of the child's life, or otherwise obstructs parenting time. More commonly this section will benefit a mother who has sued the father to establish parentage, probably in order to begin collecting child support.


CALIFORNIA FAMILY CODE

Family Code section 7640

The court may order reasonable fees of counsel, experts, and the child's guardian ad litem, and other costs of the action and pretrial proceedings, including genetic testing, to be paid by the parties, excluding any governmental entity, in proportions and at times determined by the court. The court may apply the standards set forth in Sections 2032 and 7605 in making this determination.

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