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There is no set rate for child custody attorneys; costs vary widely based on a number of factors, including geographic location, size of the firm, and the attorney's experience. Typically, attorneys charge either an hourly rate or flat fee, and even this varies based on your case and any inherent complications. However, we'll explain some common charges most clients see and average costs to give you a better idea of what to expect.
Why Hire a Child Custody Attorney?
Parents choose to hire an attorney for many reasons, and it's not only when divorce or separation are imminent. Changes to existing custody agreements may also inspire a parent to hire an attorney. An attorney helps you settle a number of issues and ensures a legal arrangement exists to protect your child's rights, as well as to protect your rights as a parent.
Child custody attorneys help establish sole or joint custody, which dictates which parent is responsible for daily decisions surrounding education, religion, and healthcare. Your lawyer also settles questions of visitation and living arrangements, as well as maintaining contact with extended family, especially in sole custody arrangements.
In amicable splits, the attorneys for both parents work together to create a mutually satisfactory agreement they then send to the court for approval. This protects both parents, as well as the child, in the event of changes in circumstances.
Typical Child Custody Costs
Costs vary widely depending on the complexity of your case and whether you go to court. You could be looking at as little as a few hundred dollars for an attorney to represent you during mediation, to $35,000 or more for a full custody battle that includes depositions, expert witnesses, a lengthy pre-trial phase, and court appearance.
A simple case averages around $4,000; however, the total may be less if both parents agree to settle out of court. Court cases that include depositions and expert witnesses start at around $5,500 and go all the way up to the aforementioned $35,000 and higher. Most attorneys charge more for court appearances than standard office time.
Child custody attorneys charge either an hourly rate or a flat fee for their services, with some offering a kind of combination. In this alternative pay structure, the attorney charges an hourly amount but agrees to a cap at which point no further charges accrue.
Most attorneys also require a retainer before they begin working your case. The retainer represents a percentage of the flat fee, or a certain number of billable hours. As the attorney works your case, payment for services is deducted from the retainer. Once funds are depleted, the attorney either bills monthly or presents another lump sum bill.
In addition to attorney fees, clients must pay legal costs. These are expenses incurred while handling your case, such as administrative tasks, court fees, and reimbursement for the time of expert witnesses. During your consultation, ask your attorney for an estimate of legal costs.
If your case presents complications, the attorney likely offers an hourly rate for his or her services. These vary widely, based mostly on your geographic location and firm size. Hourly rates in smaller towns average around $150 per hour, while attorneys in larger towns charge an average of $300 per hour.
Consider more than the hourly rate when hiring an attorney on an hourly basis. Experienced child custody attorneys typically handle cases more quickly than those with less experience usually provide a more accurate estimate of the number of hours your case requires.
For a straightforward child custody case, such as one in which both parents agree on visitation and support arrangements, attorneys typically charge a flat rate. Again, location and firm size dictate average amounts, but expect to pay between $1,000 and $5,000.
Many clients appreciate the certainty a flat rate provides, but please note that, if complications arise, your attorney will likely make changes to the rate or add fees, such as if a court appearance becomes necessary. Discuss this during your consultation.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you are seeking a child custody agreement, schedule a free consultation with an experienced family law or child custody attorney. Bring all relevant materials and ask plenty of questions to get the best idea of what you can expect to pay.