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3120. Without filing a petition for dissolution of marriage or
legal separation of the parties, a spouse may bring an action for the
exclusive custody of the children of the marriage. The court may,
during the pendency of the action, or at the final hearing thereof,
or afterwards, make such order regarding the support, care, custody,
education, and control of the children of the marriage as may be just
and in accordance with the natural rights of the parents and the
best interest of the children. The order may be modified or
terminated at any time thereafter as the natural rights of the
parties and the best interest of the children may require.

3121. (a) In any proceeding pursuant to Section 3120, and in any
proceeding subsequent to entry of a related judgment, the court shall
ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including
access early in the proceedings, to preserve each party’s rights by
ordering, if necessary based on the income and needs assessments, one
party, except a government entity, to pay to the other party, or to
the other party’s attorney, whatever amount is reasonably necessary
for attorney’s fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the
proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.
(b) When a request for attorney’s fees and costs is made, the
court shall make findings on whether an award of attorney’s fees and
costs under this section is appropriate, whether there is a disparity
in access to funds to retain counsel, and whether one party is able
to pay for legal representation of both parties. If the findings
demonstrate disparity in access and ability to pay, the court shall
make an order awarding attorney’s fees and costs. A party who lacks
the financial ability to hire an attorney may request, as an in pro
per litigant, that the court order the other party, if that other
party has the financial ability, to pay a reasonable amount to allow
the unrepresented party to retain an attorney in a timely manner
before proceedings in the matter go forward.
(c) Attorney’s fees and costs within this section may be awarded
for legal services rendered or costs incurred before or after the
commencement of the proceeding.
(d) The court shall augment or modify the original award for
attorney’s fees and costs as may be reasonably necessary for the
prosecution or defense of a proceeding described in Section 3120, or
any proceeding related thereto, including after any appeal has been
(e) Except as provided in subdivision (f), an application for a
temporary order making, augmenting, or modifying an award of attorney’
s fees, including a reasonable retainer to hire an attorney, or
costs, or both, shall be made by motion on notice or by an order to
show cause during the pendency of any proceeding described in Section
(f) The court shall rule on an application for fees under this
section within 15 days of the hearing on the motion or order to show
cause. An order described in subdivision (a) may be made without
notice by an oral motion in open court at either of the following
(1) At the time of the hearing of the cause on the merits.
(2) At any time before entry of judgment against a party whose
default has been entered pursuant to Section 585 or 586 of the Code
of Civil Procedure. The court shall rule on any motion made pursuant
to this subdivision within 15 days and prior to the entry of any
(g) The Judicial Council shall, by January 1, 2012, adopt a
statewide rule of court to implement this section and develop a form
for the information that shall be submitted to the court to obtain an
award of attorney’s fees under this section.