When you are looking for legal help for child custody or child support issues, you are really looking for a family law attorney. Family law attorneys handle a number of different legal matters including divorce, child custody, spousal and child support, as well as non-divorce related matters like adoptions and paternity issues. So what should you look for when choosing a family law attorney to answer your child custody and support questions, and what can you expect when it comes to paying for their services? Here is a short guide to family law attorneys and fee agreements.

How Do I Pick A Family Law Attorney?

If you are facing or looking to file a divorce and/or child custody suit, you may be unfamiliar with how to pick an attorney that is best for your situation. One of the obvious selection criteria is geographic location. Every jurisdiction has their own set of laws governing divorces and other family law situations. So, finding a lawyer that practices in your state is usually the first way to focus your search. In addition, you may want to also further narrow your search by the city or county that you live in. 

Any family law suit must be brought in the proper court in the proper location, which is usually the county/parish/borough where you live. Hiring an attorney that practices in your county (or an adjoining county) means that they not only know state law, but are far more likely to be comfortable with all the local court rules that will make filing your case that much easier. 

Another thing to consider is the attorney’s familiarity with child custody, divorces, or whatever type of case you are looking to file. Family law attorneys will have at least some experience with these issues, as divorces and related matters are the most common suits that they deal with on a daily basis. But if you think your situation requires someone who specializes in a specific subset of family law, you may want to look at a potential attorney a little more closely. 

State bar websites often list not only all practicing lawyers but their specialties as well. Several state bars also have certifications for certain areas of the law, where an attorney shows their expertise through extra testing. 

How Are Family Lawyers Paid?

There are two major schemes that family lawyers use for payment purposes: through retainer or hourly. At your initial consultation, you will sit down with a potential attorney to discuss your situation and determine what you want/need to file to resolve your legal issues. If you and the attorney agree to start a business relationship, you will then be asked to review and sign a contract formalizing the lawyer/client relationship. This contract outlines the scope of the lawyer’s representation on your behalf, the rights and duties each party has to the other, and method through which they will expect payment. 

  1. Retainer. Hiring a lawyer via retainer means that the client gives a certain amount of money up front, or with one payment made up front and the rest given at a specified time. An attorney working on a retainer basis will quote you a price during your consultation, and once that amount is paid they will get to work on your case, using the money to pay filing fees and attorney’s fees as the work is completed. If there is any money left over after the case is finalized, the attorney will then return any unused funds to the client. Some attorneys will ask for the entire retainer up front, while some may ask for half up front and the rest in scheduled payments; and
  2. Hourly fees. The other option an attorney can use for payment is through hourly billing. Here, the lawyer will keep track of the amount of hours they spend working on a case and bill the client later. This method is not used as commonly as payment through retainer fees.

An important thing to note is that a family lawyer should never ask for payment through contingency. This is when a lawyer claims a certain percentage of a settlement or judgment only if the case is successful. While this method is very common with personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits, it is unethical with family law. This policy is meant to prevent conflicts of interest between the client and the attorney when litigating, negotiating, or settling any legal matters. 

Do I Need An Attorney For A Child Custody Case?

Yes. Any legal matter can be complicated and intimidating, and divorces and child custody cases are no exception. These cases are often emotional and stressful times, for all members of the family, and you will want an expert on your side to ensure that all your rights are being protected. An experienced family law attorney in your area will know the best strategies for resolving any conflicts and will be your advocate through every step of the process.