How Much Does a Child Custody Court Case Cost?
The ultimate cost of a child custody case will be determined based on many factors, including the attorney you hire and whether your case is contested or uncontested. A court case can range anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000.
Custody Battle Cost
The cost of a child custody court case can range anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000-plus. The huge range is due to the many factors that go into your overall court case and requirements for custody. We know that this isn’t the answer you began searching for, but we have outlined some suggestions on ways you can plan for costs and where to find information on fees before your case begins.
The two factors that will have the most significant impact are the attorney that you hire and whether your custody case is contested or uncontested.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
For co-parents who are looking to save money, you may be considering skipping the added cost of hiring a lawyer. If you can communicate with your co-parent and negotiate a custody agreement on your own, you may not need to hire a lawyer. However, you must be prepared to do all your own legal research and file the necessary paperwork to have your agreement approved by a judge.
If your custody case is more complicated due to long distance living arrangements, history of domestic abuse, or you cannot agree on a custody schedule, you should consult a professional immediately. While working with a professional may be more expensive, it will help to protect you from future litigation and costly future changes to the agreements.
How much does a custody lawyer cost?
Attorney fees can range anywhere from $85 to $400 or more per hour depending on the experience level of the lawyer you hire, their reputation, and their track record of success in litigating child custody cases. Some lawyers will require an upfront payment, called a retainer.
Attorneys can charge for their services in several different ways. A straightforward hourly billing process is standard, meaning you pay-by-the-hour for any time the attorney spends on your case, which means every phone call, email, meeting, and court appearance about your case will increase your bill.
Some lawyers will bill a flat fee for child custody services. If the case is simple and straightforward, the flat fee will likely be less than a complex or contested custody case. A typical flat cost can range from $3,000 to $20,000.
Finally, some lawyers charge on a retainer basis. A retainer is a fee paid in advance to the lawyer for handling your case. The lawyer draws from this retainer to pay his or her expenses as the case proceeds. If the case is finished quickly, depending on your agreement, you may be refunded remaining funds left in the retainer. If the retainer is used up before the case is settled, you will be required to make an additional payment.
It’s essential to understand what is included in your attorney fees and to ask for the breakdown in writing. Other items that attorneys may charge for include travel expenses, paralegal services, copying, faxes, and more. Make sure your contract is clear about how billing works, so you are not surprised by fees you did not expect.
If you can not afford a lawyer on your own, seeking legal aid will be an important step. Legal aid offices are non-profit agencies that help those who do not have the income to support legal fees. Call a legal aid office in your jurisdiction or speak to a judge who can appoint a representative to your case if your qualify.
Contested or Uncontested Case
The other major factor that impacts the cost of your child custody case is whether your case is contested or uncontested. Having a contested case means that there is a dispute or challenge about how the custody of the child will be handled. For example, if one person is determined to have sole custody and refuses to cooperate or compromise, the case will proceed to a full-court trial, which will then require depositions, court time, possibly specialists or expert witnesses, and much more.
Other Child Custody Fee Factors
Other factors that may impact how much your child custody court case will cost include:
- The state where you live.
- If you need assistance negotiating or compromising on specific terms within your child custody agreement or parenting plan, you may need a mediator or arbitrator. Divorce mediation can cost around $500-$1,500.
- If you require a custody evaluation done by an expert such as a child psychologist, these experts can cost anywhere from $1,500 - $6,000 or more.
- You may incur fees for miscellaneous items such as paying the sheriff or third-party to serve paperwork, court filing fees, subpoenaing bank records, or other documents.
Usually, each party in a child custody case is responsible for paying their legal fees. A judge might make an exception if one party makes substantially more money than the other, or if one party cannot afford legal representation. Some people may be entitled to legal aid or a pro bono attorney depending on their income level.
While the thought of hiring an attorney and paying legal fees may seem daunting, in some child custody cases, it may be one of the best investments you ever make if it ensures the best situation for your child. Many attorneys will allow you to schedule an initial consultation at little or no cost so that you can learn more about your options.