Divorce in practice is a lot different from divorce through word of mouth. There are a number of scenarios that will play out over the months after which you file for divorce, and the number of questions you inevitably attach to these scenarios will continue to grow over time. They can be nearly to impossible to answer without the help of qualified legal counsel, which is why that is always the first step. If you’re not yet ready to file for divorce, however, you might wonder what it can cost you. Will your spouse be required to pay your attorney’s fees if you’re the one who filed for divorce?

Maybe.

Let’s say your spouse cheated on you, and you decide to file for divorce because you feel that marriage vows are important. That’s good–most people do, and the court system tends to agree. Because you’re getting a divorce as the result of your spouse’s actions, and those actions alone, there’s a good chance you may be able to convince a judge to order your spouse to pay for the fees required of your attorney.

In cases where the issues at stake are a little bit murkier–for example, the actions of both husband and wife are requisite factors in the divorce–then the court may not take action to force a spouse to pay either partial or complete attorney’s fees of the other spouse. What matters most in this example is the income of both parties. If your income is much, much lower than your spouse’s income, the court may decide to give you a little help. Or rather, the court may decide that your spouse will be required to give you a little help.

California has an interesting rule that requires fairness in these circumstances. If one spouse is exigent and can’t afford attorney’s fees, but the other spouse can, then the other spouse will likely be forced to provide the difference. This rule is not contingent on a wide gap in income. All that matters is what can be afforded, so that both sides have an equal say during the divorce proceedings. Needless to say, if the process took place while one spouse had legal counsel and the other did not, one spouse obviously holds an unacceptable edge over the other.

Lastly, if you would like your spouse to pay for your attorney’s fees, then be on your best behavior. Extra points will be gained if you act fairly and quickly, but your spouse does not. Judges are quite irked when proceedings are drawn out unnecessarily, and someone usually pays the price for making a judge angry. If your spouse’s attorney engages in disruptive tactics in order to make the process last longer than it should, then it may be your lucky day!