Child Custody Attorney Cost
An initial custody arrangement will be set up as part of a divorce, but changes in one parent’s circumstances or desires (or if the parents were never married so there is no divorce decree), a separate child custody suit may be filed.
- Legal fees start around $3,000-$5,000 for a relatively simple child custody case, but could be quite a bit less if both parents are in relative agreement and can settle out of court. However, legal costs can jump to $5,500-$35,000 or more for a custody battle that includes taking depositions, hiring experts to testify, extensive “discovery” in the other parent’s records, and lots of time preparing for and holding a trial.
- Because custody cases are unpredictable in terms of complications and length, most family law attorneys charge fees based on hourly rates of $75-$400, although some attorneys charge as much as $500 an hour, according to the book “Child Custody Made Simple” [1 ] ; time in court is usually charged at a higher rate than for an office consultation. Some attorneys charge a flat fee for a specific, straightforward process, such as the paperwork needed for an uncontested change in custody arrangements. FindLaw.com explains the basic types of legal fees [2 ] .
- Legal fees are usually paid in advance in a payment known as a retainer. If the attorney is working on an hourly basis, charges for the hours worked by an attorney or office staff will be deducted from the retainer as the work is done; if the retainer is used up you will be billed for an additional pre-payment.
Related articles: Child Support Attorney. Divorce. Prenuptial Agreement
What should be included:
- Child custody is meant to be awarded based on the best interests of the child or children; custody is usually governed by state rather than federal law. Details vary between states. FindLaw.com lists custody laws [3 ] by state and custody resources [4 ] by state, and links to custody forms [5 ] for each state. Lawyers.com describes the rights of a non-custodial parent [6 ] .
- Books explaining the child custody system [7 ] range from $12-$100 .
- Some lawyers may include filing fees or other court costs ($5-$250 or more) and other expenses (copying, postage, messengers, paralegal time, etc.) in their legal fees but other attorneys charge separately for these. Get a written estimate of anticipated “other” costs.
- Working with a mediator to create a custody agreement (without going to trial) could cost $80-$250 an hour, for two or more hours of work; this fee is usually split by both parties.
- The initial consultation to discuss your case may be free or it could be charged at the attorney’s hourly rate; ask before you go.
- Many states have programs granting fee waivers (for filing fees and other court costs) to low-income people. You may also qualify for Legal Aid or other free or low-cost assistance; the American Bar Association links to legal resources [8 ] in each state.
Shopping for a child custody attorney:
- Ask family and friends for feedback on local family law attorneys. Contact several, and ask about each one’s training and experience in family law.Lawyers.com explains what to do in a first meeting with a family law attorney [9 ] .
- Referrals are available through FindLaw.com [10 ] ; or you can contact your local bar association [11 ] .
- Your attorney should provide you with a written fee agreement. Be sure you understand what is covered, and any other fees and expenses you might have to pay.