Ten questions to ask to save yourself money in a custody fight
Before you retain an attorney to wage a custody fight, you should ask a series of questions that will help you manage your costs. Contested child custody cases have the potential to be the most expensive kinds of family law cases, and often attorneys are not very clear about the potential fees and costs.
Here are ten questions to ask your lawyer (or prospective lawyer), so that you can make an informed decision concerning costs:
- Do you see foresee any jurisdictional issues? (Jurisdictional motions often eat up your retainer fees).
- Do you think we’ll need any emergency petitions or can this case proceed on the basis of a standard custody complaint? Emergency filings, such as a request for a restraining order, can increase litigation costs.
- Is mediation available? Is it court-sponsored or do we use private mediators? Is it free or do we pay for mediation, and which one of us is responsible for payment?
- Do you foresee the need for an expert witness, such as a psychologist or social worker? What would such an expert cost?
- Are there other non-judicial programs that might help us resolve this dispute? (Some courts sponsor settlement panels; some lawyers schedule their own four-way in-office settlement sessions; some states recognize the right to custody arbitration).
- Do you anticipate ordering medical records, prior court records or any other documents as part of the preparation of this case?
- Based on what I’ve told you about this case, do you think it will be necessary to engage in pre-trial discovery? (Lawyer charge for taking depositions, and court reporters charge for their services as well. Issuing subpoenas and interrogatories also requires legal time and costs).
- How many witnesses do you think we’ll need to call? Will we need to take their statements? Will you want to interview them in advance?
- Do you see the need for any forensic investigations, such as the use of private investigators, computer data experts, medical examinations, home investigations, etc.?
- What are your firm’s billing practices? Which lawyers or paralegals will be involved in this case? What are the hourly billing rates for each of these professionals? (Beware of law firms that charge you for time expended when one lawyer talks to another lawyer from the same firm about your case).
These are not all of the possible questions that may relate to your particular case costs. Each situation is different, and you should be vigilant to examine all of the considerations before retaining an attorney. Still, the ten questions above will provide a handy template to permit you to gauge the potential complexity of your case and the potential costs and fees you may incur along the way.