How Much Does a Lawyer Cost For Child Custody

Considering hiring a child custody lawyer but unsure about affordability? You’re not alone.

It’s crucial to grasp the consequences of not hiring one.

Child custody lawyers often start at $3k – $5k, plus $300 – $500 per hour.

Child custody lawyer costs
Child custody lawyer costs

Discover more about their costs and affordable options below.

What Can I Expect From a Child Custody Lawyer?

Child custody lawyers (or family law attorneys) assist with custody matters, advocating for the child’s best interests.

They handle various family law services:

  1. Divorce and separation
  2. Parenting plans and custody agreements
  3. Paternity establishment
  4. Modification of custody arrangements
  5. Guardianship
  6. Adoption

They also handle paperwork, mediation, court representation, motion filing, investigations, client preparation, and negotiate child support.

These lawyers often charge high rates for a comprehensive package of services, some of which may not be necessary for 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
  • Depositions
  • 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 arises when parents can’t agree on issues like child support, parenting time, and property division.

Attorneys charge retainers and hourly rates for these cases, which tend to be costlier due to court time, mediators, and depositions.

Conversely, an uncontested child custody case involves parents with prior agreements.

Some attorneys offer flat fees for uncontested cases.

How Shared Custody Cases Affect the Cost of Your Attorney

Most states require an approved parenting plan for divorcing parents in child custody cases.

It outlines:

  1. Parenting schedule (time-sharing)
  2. Custodial agreement (physical and legal custody)
  3. Responsibility for healthcare and school matters
  4. Communication with children

Changes to shared parenting plans may be needed for reasons like children’s age, relocation, work schedule, income changes, or safety concerns.

Attorneys assist with phone calls, motions, negotiations, discussions, and court appearances.

Uncontested changes are usually less expensive than contested ones.

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:

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?

Developing a parenting schedule during divorce is highly stressful.

It must accommodate both parents, caregivers, and the child’s best interests.

If parents can’t agree, the court steps in.

Your attorney represents your position, and if contested, it involves extensive paperwork, investigations, court preparation, and arguments.

What Makes a Child Custody Case Complex?

Child custody cases vary, with some becoming complex and costly.

Complications arise from factors like mental illness, abuse, living conditions, substance abuse, and criminal history.

When safety concerns emerge, one parent may hire an attorney for an extensive investigation, which can increase legal expenses.

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?

Having legal representation is often wise in legal proceedings. Consider an attorney for your child custody case if:

  1. It’s complex.
  2. You and your ex live in different states.
  3. Your children’s safety is in jeopardy.
  4. Your ex restricts access to your kids.
  5. Court orders require classes or rehab.
  6. Significant changes have occurred.
  7. Your ex has legal counsel.

I Think I Can Handle My Case on My Own

Some in child custody cases agree on what’s best for kids and themselves, opting not to involve attorneys.

But skipping legal representation can leave you vulnerable.

If your ex hires a lawyer without your knowledge, negotiations can be challenging.

It’s advisable to hire an experienced child custody attorney when your children’s well-being is at risk.

Are There Ways to Save Money on My Child Custody Case?

Custody battles, especially with divorces, can be expensive.

Here are ways to save on legal costs:

  1. Minimize conflicts with your ex to reach an agreement faster and spend less on legal fees.
  2. Be well-prepared with financial and personal documents to save your attorney’s time.
  3. Consider Unbundled Legal Services, which allow you to hire a lawyer for specific case aspects, reducing costs.