Few experiences in life can be as emotionally draining or frustrating as a child custody battle. Many divorcing couples are able to decide who will be the primary custodian and that the other will have reasonable time sharing or visitation with the children. However, custody disputes are not uncommon if the parents are at odds over who the children should reside with the majority of the time. If a dispute does arise over who should be at least the primary custodian, choosing the best child custody lawyer for you can make a huge difference in the outcome.
Custody disputes often center around who is the best parent, but the standard that the courts use in determining child custody issues is what is in the best interests of the child. It may not make any difference who is the best parent since both may be equally caring and attentive to their children’s needs, but one parent may be able to provide a more stable home, routine and environment that is best for the child’s welfare, safety, health and well-being. Arriving at this determination, however, may involve litigation and strategies that only an experienced and resourceful child custody lawyer can best handle and present before a court.
In selecting a child custody lawyer, here are some factors to consider:
- Get referrals: Referrals come from many different sources. The internet is filled with attorneys seeking clients in domestic matters as are any yellow pages for your city or town. You can look at their websites, which usually give you a breakdown of a lawyer’s education, publications, associations and community involvement. A divorce lawyer who has published articles on child custody and who has ties to counseling or advocate groups usually can draw upon years of practice in custody dispute matters and has the sensitivity to a man or woman’s concerns and issues that you may be seeking. Since divorce is so prevalent in our society, you can also ask friends and relatives about their own divorce cases and the performance of their attorneys. Referrals from other professionals in finance, business or other legal areas is also an excellent source since they may have worked with a divorce lawyer in tax, business or financial matters related to the divorce. Otherwise, consult your county’s bar referral service.
- Experience does make a difference: There are numerous lawyers who come out of law school or who have been practicing divorce law who present themselves well and are affable and seemingly experienced. It takes years, however, of victories and losses in child dispute cases before an attorney knows what to expect and how to approach a child custody battle that gives the client the best opportunity to gain custody. An attorney who specializes in divorce matters is one who usually has considerable courtroom experience, has spent substantial time in front of, and has knowledge of. particular family court judges who will hear your case, and possesses the savvy required to construct a strategy that presents you in the best light possible and gives the court reason to award you primary custody.
- Cost is a consideration: Attorneys usually charge by the hour and will usually ask you for an upfront retainer from which to draw their fees as they work on your case. Some will charge you a flat fee or some combination thereof such as a one-time charge but with an hourly fee if you go to trial. Hourly fees range widely from about $200 to $600 per hour, depending on the attorney’s experience, reputation and location. A high hourly fee is not necessarily an indication of competence but may reflect the going rate in your jurisdiction. Most people are concerned about legal fees and other costs they will have to bear so carefully perusing the lawyer’s contract with them and asking questions is essential. You do not want to be calling your attorney unless you have to since you will be charged a minimum fee for even just a few minutes. Ask the attorney about the number of hours your case may take and have him or her give you a reasonable range. Of course, nothing is guaranteed but expect that a contentious divorce case will cost you several thousand dollars.
- Interview the attorney: Choose a couple of attorney who look promising to you and schedule an appointment. Most but not all divorce lawyers offer a free initial consultation since most of the people whom they meet at this first meeting do become clients. When you arrive, see if the office is clean and cared for and at least has a friendly receptionist. Have a list of questions prepared, which may include:
- How many years have the lawyer practiced divorce law?
- How many child custody dispute cases has the lawyer handled?
- Who are the family court judges in your jurisdiction?
- What experience does the lawyer have with these judges?
- Does the attorney know your spouse’s attorney if she has one?
- What is the process in a child custody dispute?
- What information do you have to disclose?
- Will he or she be handling your case?
- How much of your case will be handled by a paralegal or associate?
- What is the retainer and hourly fee?
- What other costs are to be expected?
- How can costs and fees be minimized?
- Can you ask previous clients about how the attorney handled their case?
- Has the attorney published articles about child custody matters?
- What legal associations and community groups relating to divorce, women’s or men’s issues does the attorney belong?
- Observe the attorney: See if he or she is listening to you and asking questions. Your divorce lawyer is someone with whom you will share your most intimate details so you will want someone who is sympathetic to your goals. You will also have to disclose anything negative about yourself to your lawyer so being comfortable about such disclosures is essential. This includes informing her or her about your excessive drinking, gambling addiction, substance abuse, instances of domestic violence, a DUI conviction or philandering. Nothing is worse for an attorney than going to a hearing or negotiating session and learning for the first time that you have a criminal conviction for assault, DUI, drugs or any other misconduct.
Alternatives to litigation
There are alternative dispute resolution options in divorce and child custody cases. Mediation is the most common where a neutral third party meets with you and your spouse to attempt a resolution. Another is collaborative divorce where your attorney and your spouse’s use non-adversarial methods and often work with child care professionals, social workers, psychologists and others to work out a reasonable solution to your child custody dispute. Ask your attorney if he or she has experience in this area and if this is a viable option for you. These approaches are typically much less costly than normal litigation.
If you would like the opinion of an experienced child custody lawyer, contact Gastelum Law – we are happy to help.