Understanding Child Custody: Costs, Process, and Factors
Last Updated: June 15, 2023
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While a child custody battle is stressful in and of itself, you might also have concerns about how much the process is going to cost you in attorney fees. A number of factors go into determining the cost of a custody lawyer including his or her level of experience, the type of practice, where you live, and the complexity of the custody issues. This guide explains the basics of hiring a custody attorney and how much you can expect to pay.
Custody Lawyer Average Costs #
- Family law lawyer fees typically average around $200 to $600 per hour. Again, the actual rate charged will depend on an attorney's credentials, your location, and the particulars of the case.
- For a straightforward custody case where the parents are in general agreement over custody issues, you might pay somewhere around $2,500 to $5,000 in custody attorney fees. But in a drawn out custody battle that goes to trial, custody lawyer costs could balloon to $5,000 to $40,000 or more.
- Most lawyers expect fees to be paid up front, which is known as a retainer. If the retainer amount is exhausted more funds will need to be added. Also, while some lawyers may return money left in the retainer at the conclusion of a case, others may have a nonrefundable policy. Make sure you are clear on this matter and others related to billing before you hire a child custody attorney.
- A lawyer may also charge you for office work such as copying and faxing documents in addition to paralegal services, travel expenses, and more.
- Other charges may include court filing fees, court reporter fees, and expert witness fees.
- If you work with a mediator, expect to pay approximately $100 to $300 per hour.
Reasons to Hire a Child Custody Lawyer #
When divorcing parents cannot come to terms on a child custody agreement, custody lawyers can help resolve points of contention over issues such as:
- Whether the custody will be sole or joint
- Who is responsible for legal decisions (such as education, religion, and health care)
- Who has physical custody
- Visitation schedules
- Living arrangements
- How to manage contact with other family members and friends
- Accusations of violence or other behavior that may endanger the children's welfare
- How a custody agreement can be changed in the future
If both parents have obtained custody attorneys, the parties can work together through informal out of court negotiations with the aim of creating a mutually satisfactory agreement. The agreement is sent to a judge for approval once a deal has been struck and a supporting document drafted.
When this fails to work, another out-of-court negotiation strategy such as mediation can be used. During mediation, a neutral third party facilitates non-confrontational talks between the parents in an attempt to settle the outstanding custody issues. If this process yields an agreement, it is sent to the courts for finalization.
When out of court negotiations fail to produce a custody agreement, the case will go to trial and your child custody lawyer will prepare and present arguments on your behalf. A judge will enter a decision that he or she believes is in the best interests of the children after hearing testimony from each side.
How Is Custody Decided? #
Judges consider these factors to determine the child custody arrangement that serves the child's best interests:
- Child's Best Interests
- Parent-Child Relationship
- Parental Fitness
- Parental History and Conduct
- Co-Parenting Ability
- Child's Preference (depending on age and maturity)
- Stability and Continuity
- Any Relevant Factors