Child custody cases have many varying factors, some of which the child custody lawyer has no say about, so it is going to be difficult to determine your exact costs up front. Because of the amount of work involved, child custody disputes are expensive and can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000.

It is possible to arrange child custody without going to court, which would save a lot of time and money. Although this is a lower cost option, it will still cost you. It is important to understand all of your options before proceeding.

What Factors Cause Costs to Vary for Child Custody Claims?

A large portion of the costs associated with child custody disputes comes from attorney’s fees, but other factors contribute to how expensive the overall ordeal will be. Typically, the following costs will be factored in:

  • Type of Custody Dispute: Obviously, non-contested child custody cases are going to cost less to resolve than contested cases. This is one of the biggest determinations of how affordable the dispute will be. If one party is determined to receive sole custody and will not compromise or cooperate, the dispute will proceed with depositions, filing motions, excessive court time, and hired child psychologists and other experts. Additionally, while going to trial is the most expensive option, mediation is not without its costs either. Mediators are typically paid hourly, and cost anywhere between $100 and $300 per hour;
  • Specialists and Expert Witnesses: As mentioned above, some cases require the assistance of a specialist or an expert, such as a child psychologist. Even if the dispute is amicable, the parties involved might still need to go through a custody evaluation. Custody evaluations involve tests, interviews, and professional observations; this ranges from $1,500 to $6,000. These costs are elevated if the case is contested and can quickly reach the tens of thousands range;
  • Attorney’s Fees: Each attorney sets their own fees, and each party is responsible for paying their own legal fees. However, most states make allowances on this rule. A court has the power to order one party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees in cases such as one spouse being unable to afford adequate representation, or there being a disparity in the financial status of the parties. Attorney’s fees are complex and will be further discussed in the next section; and
  • Miscellaneous Fees: There are some miscellaneous fees that add up quickly. An example is the approximate $30 needed to pay the sheriff to serve the other party. Other papers that need to be filed with the court can cost as little as one dollar, or as much as $300. All of these little fees add up to a costly process.

How Are Attorney’s Fees Determined in a Child Custody Case?

Legal fees in a child custody case are determined by several different factors. These include:

  • The amount of time spent on your case;
  • The attorney’s experience, abilities, and established reputation;
  • The difficulty and potential novelty of your case; and
  • Other costs involved, such as court fees and overhead costs (rent, utilities, etc).

The costs associated with child custody disputes are primarily based on how cooperative the parties are and the lawyer’s fee structure. Some structures are prohibited from being implemented in family law cases. The structures that are generally used for child custody cases include:

  • Consultation Fee: Your initial meeting, where you both decide if the attorney can take your case. Some attorneys charge this fee, and some do not, so it is important to check with each prospective attorney before going in for your consultation;
  • A Flat Fee Agreement: A flat fee is generally only offered if the case is simple and straightforward. This fee is specific and totaled;
  • An Hourly Fee Agreement: This is the most common structure used. Some attorneys charge different hourly fees for the type of work being done, such as one rate for legal research and another for a court appearance;
  • A Referral Fee: If an attorney refers you to another attorney, they might ask for a portion of the total fee you’ll be paying for the case; or
  • Retainer Fees: A retainer structure is essentially a down payment on the legal services you will be receiving. It is comparable to having your attorney on call. An amount of money, typically based on the attorney’s hourly rate, is placed in an account and withdrawn as costs are incurred.

It is imperative to ask the attorney in question what costs and expenses are covered by their fees before agreeing to any fee structure.

Generally, child custody attorneys choose a flat fee or an hourly rate. A flat fee can be expected to range from $3,000 to $6,000. However, a low fee is not necessarily an indication of the quality of legal representation you will be receiving. These fees are assessed based on the amount of work an attorney expects to put into the case with regards to the difficulty of the case. If the custody battle is going to be quick and only requires mediation, or few court appearances and filings, there will likely be a lower flat fee. A complex or contested case, requiring many more court appearances and work, will likely come with a higher flat fee.

An attorney charge an hourly rate if the parties cannot agree on visitation or custody structures, or one party is attempting to move the child to another state, or if there are any other complex child custody issues. Hourly rates do not indicate quality, but rather how costly the overall case might be. An attorney who chooses an hourly rate structure might also require a retainer.

Should I Hire a Child Custody Attorney?

As can be seen, there are numerous benefits to hiring a well-qualified and experienced attorney to assist you with your child custody case. Although the costs may add up, the assistance and representation you will receive could be worth the fees. It is important to ask any attorney what their fee structure typically is and what those fees cover. A flat fee may be sufficient for your case, or it could require a retainer and hourly fees. A child custody attorney will help you determine which is best for your individual case.