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Whether your relationship with your child's parent recently ended or you feel it is time to make changes to an existing child support agreement, you may benefit from meeting with an attorney experienced in family law and child support issues. Either parent may hire a child support attorney, even in cases where a Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program is involved. Costs vary, with some lawyers charging an hourly rate and others working on a flat fee basis.
Why Hire an Attorney?
Even when a divorce or separation is amicable, family law questions are complicated and vary greatly by state. In cases where parties do not agree on the question of child support, the need for an attorney rises exponentially. Through negotiation, family law attorneys help both parties settle outside of court, saving both time and money. If negotiation fails, mediation and arbitration typically occur before the parties go to court. If, however, an agreement cannot be reached, an attorney represents you in the event your case goes to trial.
A family law attorney can help you:
- Collect outstanding child support payments
- Complete and file proper paperwork
- Determine payment method of child support
- Legally establish paternity
- Make changes to existing child support agreements
- Obtain the court order describing child support payment terms
Lawyers Who Charge Hourly Fees
Hourly fees vary widely, especially in family law attorneys. Beginning rates start at $100 per hour but may rise as high as $500 per hour, depending on the size of the firm and the complexity of your case. Typically, family law attorneys charge a retainer, which is an up-front payment equal to a certain number of hours of the attorney's time.
The lawyer's hourly rate does not necessarily indicate the quality of the lawyer. Research the attorneys you interview, checking their history in family law matters in general, and child support issues in particular. You can also find information about the attorney via your area's State Bar Association. Additionally, larger firms tend to charge higher fees. Finally, please note that fees and costs are two separate items. We'll discuss costs in a moment.
Lawyers Who Charge Flat Fees
Some attorneys charge a flat rate, especially if your case is straightforward. However, he or she may include a provision that the cost rises if complications occur. You also typically pay a retainer to an attorney charging a flat rate, but in this instance, it is a percentage of the total projected fee, followed by monthly payments until the total amount is paid. Again, larger firms charge higher rates, and research helps you choose an experienced, qualified lawyer to represent you.
The lawyer's fee is not the total amount owed at the end of your case. It only recompenses the attorney for his or her time. You also face costs associated with your case. These include court costs, expert witnesses if the case goes to trial, and various administrative costs. When hiring an attorney, ask for an accurate assessment of potential legal costs.
Typical Child Custody Costs
If you file for court-ordered support payments without an attorney, using only the Child Support Enforcement program, expect to pay around $25 for the application fee. Some states charge zero for this service and some less, but $25 is average. CSE works with custodial parents to locate non-custodial parents when necessary, establish paternity, and arrange a payment schedule. For a complete listing of the fees in your state, check with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Attorney representation in a child support case averages around $3,000 in cases where both parties agree. Contested cases that go to trial are substantially higher, going as high as $25,000. Again, these are the attorney's fees; these totals do not include the legal costs associated with your case.
For-profit agencies offering to assist with child custody cases typically charge between 25 and 30 percent of the money recovered. Please note that these are not legal agencies and cannot provide legal advice or assistance. Check with your local Better Business Bureau before signing with one of these agencies.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you have a child custody case, a free consultation with a family law attorney can help you decide the best way to proceed with your case. Arrive prepared, with all relevant documents and a list of questions for the attorney.