Custody & Visitation Law

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Child Custody Case?

Although hiring a good lawyer can be quite expensive, it is money well spent on a custody case. Your children are the most important thing to you in the world, so it is crucial to take a child custody case seriously. Hiring an experienced child custody lawyer with a proven track record handling cases like yours is a good start.

When parents either separate or divorce, a child custody order or agreement determines how much time each parent has with their children. One parent is usually the custodial parent, and the other is typically responsible for basic child support payments and has visitation or parenting time. The order commonly addresses the child support amount to be paid as well. Because the stakes are so high, disputes over child custody and visitation and parenting time are common.

Should I Hire a Lawyer For Child Custody?

If you are facing a contentious child custody dispute, and the other parent has hired an attorney, you could be at a disadvantage if attempting to represent yourself. The court system is complicated and there is a reason that people hire attorneys to help them navigate the legal system. While you do not need a child custody lawyer to go through a custody case, having one advocate for you and give you legal advice can make all the difference.

Without specialized knowledge of the law, including the rules of evidence and the law itself, it is challenging to present your case to the court effectively. Attempting to do so could impact your case negatively, and as a result your ability to obtain or maintain custody of your child.

A family law attorney can help guide you through every challenge of your child custody case. Some challenges include managing:

  • Discovery: The information-gathering process. Your attorney can help you better organize the information and present it in a format that is most favorable to you.
  • Court: Your attorney can advise you on how to navigate the court system and how to conduct yourself in court during a child custody case. Since you may be dealing with a very stressful and emotionally draining situation, their guidance could be crucial.
  • Aggressive attorneys: If the other attorney is known to be aggressive in proceedings, your attorney can prepare you for that. Your attorney will also help you prepare for the type and intensity of questions that you might face from the other attorney during your mediation, negotiation or a court hearing.
  • Experts: Your attorney can also advise you about whether you should spend the money on a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or whether you should take other necessary steps to strengthen your child custody case.

In addition to these issues, child support is often a big part of custody cases and the resolution of that issue will happen alongside the custody dispute. Given the complexity of financial issues, it is helpful to get the legal advice of experienced counsel.

What Should I Ask My Lawyer About Child Custody?

Most family law attorneys have experiencing handling contentious custody disputes. They often represent parents who were married or those were never married and who face important decisions about what happens when a relationship ends. Most experienced family law attorneys will make sure you are comfortable with the process and requirements of presenting a solid custody and visitation case.

What to look for in a lawyer:

  • A proven track record representing cases similar to your own
  • A clear communication policy for updating clients and returning messages
  • The ability to project and maintain calm during stressful proceedings

Why might hiring a family law attorney be the best decision?

  • Objectivity: You have an obvious stake in the outcome of the child custody decision. A family law attorney is an objective professional, hired to be your advocate and to promote your interests. They also act as a buffer between you and the other party or you and your spouse’s attorney.
  • Expertise: Family law attorneys handle custody cases frequently and will have insider knowledge that you cannot get without this experience. You will benefit from hiring an experienced attorney who knows how to protect your interests.

Cost is obviously an important factor for many people seeking an attorney. The cost for an attorney will vary widely depending on your state, your city, the lawyer’s experience and other factors. But making a decision on price is just one of the many considerations you should evaluate when hiring an attorney.

What If I Can't Afford An Attorney for Child Custody?

It is not uncommon for a custody case to cost thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. While that usually involves attorney fees, you could find yourself responsible for the cost of experts, evaluations, and other expenses throughout the process. It is no wonder that when faced with a custody case, people may not have the money to spend on their legal proceedings.

Many people who cannot afford an attorney on their own, may qualify for assistance from legal aid or a legal non-profit. Often legal aid offices will be assisted by volunteer attorneys who agree to take cases pro bono. In these cases, there is usually a financial threshold you must meet and any other requirements unique to that office. It is worthwhile to check out the options that are available in your county if you need a lawyer.

How Do I Represent Myself in a Child Custody Case?

You may want to represent yourself in your child custody case. And while you may save money by choosing to go it without a child custody lawyer, it will be a challenging process. If you can't afford an attorney (and even if you can afford one) you are able to represent yourself in the proceedings.

Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure that you end up with an order that is truly in the best interests of your child:

  • Get organized. When you present information to the other parent, the other attorney or the court, it needs to be clear. If you organize your information, it makes it more likely that it will be persuasive and accepted.
  • Tell your story. Without any irrelevant information, present your picture of what is in your child's best interests, using facts and the law to support your position.
  • Be patient. If issues are contentious then it may be a long, drawn-out process including mediation, negotiation and court appearances.
  • Be flexible. Prepare to tell your story, but allow some flexibility in your options. Provide alternatives for resolution of the matter.

Custody cases and decisions are fraught with emotion and disagreement. They are emotionally challenging and financially challenging cases. To ensure that your interests are protected, hire an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process. Even if you are primarily representing yourself, you can consult with an attorney on a limited basis to get some legal advice and limited representation. Not all but some family law attorneys will offer that option.