How Much Does a Child Custody Lawyer Cost?
by Unbundled Legal Help
Have you considered hiring a child custody lawyer but are unsure if you can afford one? You are not alone, there are many others in your same predicament. While it’s important to consider what a child custody lawyer costs, it’s also imperative that you understand the implications of not hiring an attorney.
Typically, child custody lawyers charge $3k - $5k, just to get started. From there, many charge an additional $300 - $500 per hour for their services. If it sounds like it’s expensive to hire a child custody attorney, that’s because it usually is. Learn more below about the cost of a child custody lawyer and where to find affordable services.
What Can I Expect From a Child Custody Lawyer?
Child custody lawyers (also called “family law attorneys”) advise and support their clients in all matters related to child custody. Their function is to advocate on their client’s behalf to create or modify a custody agreement that reflects the child’s best interests and needs. Child custody lawyers provide a variety of family law services to include:
- Divorce and legal separation
- Development of parenting plans and custody agreements
- Establishment of paternity
- Modification of existing child custody agreements
Additionally, child custody lawyers guide clients through the paperwork, represent them during mediation or in court, draft and file motions, conduct investigations, prep clients for court, and negotiate child support payments. Child custody attorneys typically charge high rates because they offer you all of their services and ability (some of which you may not need) bundled together while working on your case.
Why Are Child Custody Lawyers so Expensive?
The largest factor that affects the cost of a child custody lawyer is attorney fees. However, there are other elements that can add to the overall cost of your attorney such as:
- The type of custody dispute
- Cost of expert witnesses and/or specialists
- Miscellaneous fees
- Number of hours spent on your case
- The complexity of your case
- Guardian ad Litem appointments
- Number of motions filed
The type of custody dispute that you have can greatly influence the cost of a child custody lawyer. Below, are a few examples of child custody cases and how they can affect the final cost of your attorney.
Why Are Contested Cases More Costly?
A contested child custody case is one in which the parents have not come to a concrete agreement on custodial issues like child support payments, parenting time (including holiday schedules), property division, etc.
Attorneys typically charge an upfront retainer and hourly rate for contested child custody cases. Contested cases are typically more expensive due to the amount of time in court, the need for mediators, as well as additional depositions.
On the contrary, an uncontested child custody case involves two parents that have already come to an agreement about the custodial issues that matter most. Some attorneys will charge a flat fee for uncontested cases.
How Shared Custody Cases Affect the Cost of Your Attorney
In most states, an approved parenting plan is required of those that are in the midst of a divorce and child custody case. A parenting plan is a guideline created by the parents that govern how each party will move forward on all matters related to their children. At a minimum, a parenting plan must address:
- A parenting schedule, which is a detailed description of how much time the children will spend with each parent and when
- Custodial Agreement that outlines the parameters of physical custody as well as legal custody
- Designation of responsibility for healthcare (i.e. decisions, costs, etc.)
- Responsibility for school-related matters
- Details of how each parent will communicate with the children
Shared parenting plans require trust and teamwork. When one partner is not living up to their end of the bargain, or there are changes in the needs of the children, it is common for the opposing parent (or both) to request changes to the shared parenting plan. Changes to parenting plans are commonly requested for such reasons as:
- The children are older and the plan currently in place does not meet their needs
- Relocation of one parent
- New work schedule by one or both parents
- Lost job or decreased income
- Safety risks posed to the children
Potential services that attorneys provide to clients when changes to a shared parenting plan are requested can include phone calls, drafting and filing legal motions, representation during settlement negotiations, discussions with the representation of the opposing party, court appearances.
If the changes requested to a shared parenting plan are uncontested, the fees are typically far less than if the changes are contested.
Will it Be More Expensive if My Attorney Develops a Custody Agreement and Parenting Schedule?
A child custody agreement and parenting schedule are integral parts of a strong parenting plan. They are the backbone of the entire agreement. While the parents can develop both without hiring attorneys, it is typically not in the best interest of either party to do so. Learn more about an attorney’s role in developing a custody agreement and parenting schedule below.
What is a Custody Agreement?
Child custody agreements outline the guidelines for custody between each parent. Many custody agreements also address child support, as well as whether or not third parties such as grandparents can assume custody in the event of the death of one or both parents. Custody agreements typically instruct the parents on many issues to include:
- The decision of primary physical custody
- Which parent is granted legal custody
- How the custody will be split
- Visitation schedule
Attorneys typically advise and help throughout all stages of the development of a custody agreement. There will be there through the negotiation process as well as the finalization. The number of additional services needed will largely depend on whether or not the parents are in agreement on most issues.
What is a Parenting Schedule?
During a divorce, developing a parenting schedule can be one of the most stressful issues that parents face. Creating a schedule that works for both parents, additional caregivers (nanny, family members, babysitters, etc.), and is in the child’s best interest, can be difficult, to say the least.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement before or during mediation (if necessary), then the court will create a parenting schedule for them. In this case, the court will allow your attorney to advocate for your position, as well as the opposing parent and then come to a conclusion.
If the details of the parenting plan are contested, an attorney may have to expend many more hours on filing paperwork, conducting investigations, prepping you for court, and arguing on your behalf in court.
What Makes a Child Custody Case Complex?
Every child custody case is different. However, some are more complex and can lead to lengthy and expensive legal battles. Complications in child custody cases often arise due to a number of factors to include:
- Mental illness in children or parent(s)
- Abusive environments
- Inadequate living conditions
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Criminal history
When one parent has concerns about the other parent’s ability to provide their children with a safe environment, they are likely to hire an attorney that will conduct a thorough investigation. Investigations are used to establish the presence of unsafe conditions. They can be long, drawn-out, and quickly add to legal fees.
Who Pays Attorney Fees in Child Custody Cases?
In general, both parties are responsible for paying for their own legal fees in child custody cases. However, this does not always occur. In some cases, the courts will grant an exception in cases where there is a great difference in financial resources between the two parties or one party cannot afford legal representation. Additionally, judges can make the decision to award attorney fees depending on the circumstances of the case.
Do I Need a Lawyer’s Help With My Child Custody Case?
Some parents are able to amicably negotiate and come to a child custody agreement on their own. However, most child custody cases are not that simple. When child custody is at stake, the decision that you make about your legal representation can play a pivotal role in whether or not there is an outcome that is favorable to you and in the best interest of the child.
Learn more below about when it is in your best interest to hire a child custody attorney and when you may be okay without legal representation.
Should I Hire a Child Custody Lawyer?
It is typically not in your best interest to go into any legal proceedings without adequate representation. However, many are still unsure if their situation warrants getting lawyers involved. Listed below are some reasons why you may need an attorney's help in your child custody case.
- You have a complicated custody case
- You and your ex don’t live in the same state
- Your children’s safety is at stake
- Your ex is not allowing you to see your children or wishes to prevent you from doing so
- You have been court-ordered to take classes or enroll in an alcohol or drug abuse program
- You and/or your ex’s circumstances have significantly changed
- Your ex has already decided to get a lawyer
I Think I Can Handle My Case on My Own
Some individuals involved in child custody cases are in alignment with what is best for the children as well as what will work best for themselves. In this case, both parties may decide to not involve attorneys.
However, by not taking advantage of the services of a family lawyer, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable to undesirable situations. For instance, if your ex seeks counsel from an attorney without your knowledge, you could be in an uphill battle during one-on-one negotiations with them.
Generally, it is recommended that you hire a proven and experienced child custody lawyer whenever the custody, safety, and needs of your children may be in jeopardy.
Are There Ways to Save Money on My Child Custody Case?
It’s no secret that the cost of a custody battle (especially when coupled with a divorce) can be expensive for all parties involved. Though it may seem impossible, there are ways to save money. Listed below are a few ways that you can save money on your child custody case legal expenditures.
- Minimize the fights with your ex: The more arguing and fighting, the less likely both parties are to reach an agreement in a timely fashion. The longer your case goes, the more you are likely to spend on legal fees.
- Be Prepared: The more work your attorney has to do, the more they will charge. Thus, have all pertinent financial documentation and personal information available. Being prepared will help you to save time, and saving time will save you money.
- Use Unbundled Legal Services: Most child custody lawyers handle your case from start to finish. This results in exorbitant fees that most people cannot afford. However, Unbundled Legal Help services offer you the ability to hire a lawyer only for specific parts of your case while saving significant money. Learn more below.
How Can Unbundled Legal Services Help Me to Save Money?
As you are likely aware, attorneys can be expensive. While there is no doubt that their services are beneficial and necessary in child custody cases, not everyone can afford $3k - $5k plus an additional $300 - $500 per hour.
Fortunately, fees for unbundled legal services start as low as $500 - $1500.
This gives you the opportunity to hire an attorney to handle certain parts of your case while you handle others. Deciding to work in tandem with your child custody lawyer using unbundled legal services can save you time and money.
It should be noted that unbundled legal services may not be a good fit for every child custody case. If your case is more complex, our lawyers also offer full representation at affordable rates.
Before you spend thousands upfront, fill out an online form, get instantly connected with an unbundled lawyer in your area and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled.