Skip to content

Child Custody | Family

How Much Does a Child Custody Lawyer Cost?

9 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Have you considered hiring a child custody lawyer, but are unsure if you can afford one? Knowing what a child custody lawyer costs is just part of the story. You’ll also want to understand why they’re expensive, how they can help you, and when they’re really worth the cost.

The average retainer for child custody lawyers is between $3,000 and $5,000. Additional work when a case becomes more complex tends to cost between $300 and $500 per hour.

Unbundled Legal Help can also connect you with affordable pay-as-you-go lawyers that charge between $500 and $1,500, plus a free consultation, to work on specific parts of a custody matter.

Many people struggle to find affordable legal representation, but there are sure to be empathetic and high-quality family law attorneys near you.

What to Expect From a Child Custody Lawyer

Child custody lawyers advise and support their clients in all matters related to child custody. Their client is typically a single parent, but can also be a child’s guardian or grandparents.

A child custody legal expert will deal with other parties – including parents, lawyers, and the legal system – on their client’s behalf. They will work to create, modify, or uphold a custody agreement that is fair to their client, and which also reflects their child’s best interests.

Most family law attorneys – who also handle related matters like divorce – can serve as a child custody attorney. Few attorneys work solely on child custody, but some family lawyers specialize in this subject more than others. The services that a good child custody lawyer can provide include:

As part of this, child custody lawyers guide clients through best practices to retain their child, represent them during mediation or in court, draft and file motions or paperwork, and oversee investigations.

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 Expensive?

Attorneys typically bill an upfront retainer for their services. Then they’ll add additional costs for the hours they work or any unique elements that arise in your case, like:

  • Finding and preparing expert witnesses or specialists
  • Holding depositions (summoning and interviewing someone to give sworn verbal evidence)
  • Responding to motions (legal documents filed in court) and meetings from the other parties
  • Legal research on specific aspects of the law, like unfit parenting

In addition, custody lawyers have a lot of training, they’re in demand, and they need to be available all the time to deal with emotional people in sensitive situations.

In effect, the type of custody dispute that you have can greatly influence the final cost of your child custody lawyer.

Contested Cases Are 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 (such as holiday schedules), or the division of property division.

Contested cases are typically more expensive due to the amount of time in court, the need for mediators or meetings, 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, as this can be as simple as sealing a pre-existing deal.

Child Custody Matters Can Become 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 like:

  • Custody of infants and newborns, requiring the need for updated agreements in the future
  • Health issues affecting children or parents
  • Challenging living conditions
  • Parental alienation, in which a child declines to visit or spend time with a parent
  • Criminal history that could affect a final judgment

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 make a thorough argument. Investigations or questioning to establish the presence of unsafe conditions can be long, drawn-out, and quickly add to legal fees. 

Shared Custody Also Affects the Cost of An 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 decisions and payments
  • 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 opposite parent (or both) to request changes to the shared parenting plan. Child custody attorneys will provide their services here as well, potentially charging an hourly rate.

If the changes requested to a shared parenting plan are uncontested, the fees are typically far less than if the changes are in dispute.

Should An Attorney Develop Your Custody Agreement and Parenting Schedule?

A child custody agreement and parenting schedule are integral parts of a strong parenting plan. Many custody agreements outline the guidelines for custody between each parent, as well as issues ranging from child support to whether or not third parties such as grandparents can assume custody in the event of the death of one or both parents.They are the backbone of the entire agreement.

While the parents can develop these documents without hiring attorneys, it is typically not in the best interest of either party to do so. Attorneys typically advise and help throughout all stages of the development of a custody agreement. This reduces the room for misinterpretations and errors that frustrate all parties. Attorneys can be on call or leading the negotiation process, and will play a role in finalizing the terms. The number of attorney services needed will largely depend on whether or not the parents are in agreement on most issues. 

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 both parties to advocate for their preferred position before coming to a conclusion.

Lawyers who offer unbundled services are able to assist with these specific matters, and offer free consultations.

Do You Always Need a Lawyer for A 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 the final outcome.

It is typically not in your best interest to go into any legal proceedings without adequate representation. In some circumstances, it is particularly urgent to retain a lawyer: 

  • 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

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. 

However, in some child custody cases all parties are in alignment with what is best for the children as well as what will work best for themselves. In this case, parties may decide to not involve attorneys in negotiations.

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.

On occasion, the courts may order one partner to assist with the other’s custody lawyer costs where there is a great difference in financial resources between both sides, or if one party truly cannot afford legal representation.

Additionally, judges can make the decision to award attorney fees depending on the circumstances of the case – for instance, if one party ignores a judge’s order and leads both sides back into court due to their actions.

Parents have a right to be represented by a custody attorney if they can afford one, but the government is not required to give everyone a custody lawyer.

How Can You Save Money on a Child Custody Matter?

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.

  1. Minimize Fights: The more arguing and fighting, the less likely that parties are to reach an agreement in a timely fashion. The longer your case goes, the more you can expect to spend on legal fees.
  2. Be Prepared: To reduce the time your attorney spends to figure out your case, have as much relevant financial and personal information available and organized in advance.
  3. Consider Unbundled 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 offers you the ability to hire a lawyer only for specific parts of your case, resulting in significant savings.

There’s no doubt that attorney services are beneficial and necessary in child custody cases, but not everyone can afford the average child custody lawyer cost of $3,000 plus $300+ per hour.

Fortunately, unbundled legal services can cost as little as $500 to $1,500, with a free consultation. This pay-as-you-go option lets you hire an attorney to handle certain parts of your case while you handle others. If your case is more complex, the lawyers in Unbundled Legal Help’s network also offer full representation at affordable rates.

Related Blog Posts

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer?

Receive a free consultation with a more affordable lawyer in your local area