One of the most common and understandable questions that we receive here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is regarding the costs associated with a typical child custody case. This is a difficult question to answer given that there is no such thing as a typical child custody case. Your children, your family, your life, and your circumstances are unique. It would be a major mistake to assume that your case will travel down the road to a conclusion down the same trajectory as another family law case. People who enter child custody cases with this attitude tend to end up paying more- not less- for their cases.
The first thing that we wanted to talk with you about in today's blog post is the importance of being intentional as far as your approach to your child custody case is concerned. Intentionality is not just some buzzword used in self-help books and videos. Rather, when we walk about intentionality in the context of a family law case it means that you should not wander into a case and should not wander around once you are in the case. Rather, you need to have a plan and need to do things for a reason within the case.
This starts from the very beginning of your case. If you are contemplating a child custody case of some sort you should make sure that there is no other way for you to accomplish your goals other than to file a custody case. For example, let's say that your ex-spouse has not paid you child support in a couple of months. However, all other aspects of your parenting plan are being fulfilled with no issues. This should give you some indication that something may be wrong, but it may not be an issue that requires a formal child custody case.
In this situation, you can and should reach out to your co-parent and discuss the issue with him. It may be that his employer changed their payroll provider and there has been an issue with getting child support taken out of his paycheck. If he doesn't know about it from you then you may never know about it. Your job is to communicate with him about these issues so that you can hold one another accountable. To not directly talk to your co-parent about the situation and then immediately file a child custody enforcement case would be a major mistake. You are spending time and money on a situation that could have been resolved with a simple phone call or face-to-face chat.
This is what it means to be intentional. Intentional does not mean the same thing as confrontational, however. If you and your co-parent have a history of misunderstandings over simple situations, then you may want to look to hire a family law attorney to at least send a letter or get in contact with your co-parent about the problem. Even spending a small amount of money to communicate the issue is a better idea than immediately jumping into filing a lawsuit. Think through your options and then choose the best one for you and your family at this juncture.
If you have questions about what your options may be based on your particular circumstances, then you should consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week by phone, video, and in person at any of our multiple Houston-area office locations. We will work with you to determine the issues in your case and help you focus on those while ignoring the noise and distractions that come with a custody proceeding. This is where you can develop a plan and learn how to be intentional about your time and your money.
Do you need to hire an attorney for your child custody case?
This is the big question that you need to ask yourself in conjunction with a family law case. Simply put, attorney’s fees usually end up being the most expensive part of a child custody case when it is all said and done. For that reason, you must understand this as well as how those fees tend to accumulate. Finally, what you can do to minimize those costs should also be explored. Again, this all gets back to the point that we raised in the initial section of today's blog post intentionality is key. If you can be intentional about how you select an attorney for your case, then you will have done a lot of work to reduce costs and be economical with your budget.
First, a word or two on how attorneys bill clients in the world of Texas family law. Family law attorneys bill by the hour. This means that your attorney (if you hire one) will bill you based on how much work needs to be performed on your case. In our area here in southeast Texas, you can expect attorneys to bill somewhere between $250 to $750 per hour. For most people, seeing that in print is enough to make your eyes bug out of your head. We all know how much money people make per hour of work. That an attorney can bill to those totals can seem extreme. Here is what you need to know about how the attorney will bill you for work performed within your case.
A family law attorney will charge you an initial retainer. This amount can vary depending upon the attorney as well as the type of case that you have. If you are hiring an attorney, the week before a temporary order hearing then you can expect the attorney to ask for a higher retainer given that there is a lot of work that needs to be performed in a relatively short amount of time. Getting back to what we talked about earlier in this blog post, being intentional about how much time you give your attorney to prepare for mediation or a hearing can impact how much money it costs to hire him or her.
You can think of that retainer as a down payment for the attorney's services. You are retaining that attorney to work on your case. The hourly rate that an attorney charges will be assessed once the retainer is all spent. The best analogy I can think of to tell people regarding this set-up is in comparison to an ATM. For you to have cash available to take out for expenses you need to have money in the account. The same thing goes for your attorney. For your attorney to be able to work on your case you need to have money in your account. This is especially true as you approach mediation, hearings, or a trial.
How to monitor and account for the costs associated with a child custody case
Now that we have a basic understanding of how an attorney charges for their services in a child custody case, we can discuss how you can monitor costs and even budget for a family law case. When it comes to a family law case like yours it is not going to be easy to fix these monthly costs into your budget. Therefore, the most important part of this process as far as costs are concerned may be to make a good decision on the front end of your case when you hire an attorney. When there is a wide gap between the hourly rates of attorneys who practice family law you need to, again, be intentional about this.
Hiring an attorney who practices family law is critical to your success in a family law case. Many people will hire a family friend, a lawyer whose billboard looks impressive, or even a lawyer who physically "looks" like he or she knows what they're doing. Ultimately these are not good criteria to go off of when it comes to hiring an attorney. Rather, you should place some specific criteria in front of you when it comes to hiring a lawyer. The more options you have to choose from, the better chances that you will be able to make a good decision. Here is how you can take that general principle and apply it specifically to this task of hiring an attorney for your child custody case.
You can look for attorneys who will offer you a free-of-charge consultation before deciding about hiring him or her. These could be consultations done in person, over the phone, or even via video. A free-of-charge consultation should put your mind at ease given that an attorney is willing to take time out of their day to talk to you about your issues and to provide you with information that may be helpful to you when it comes to planning out a case, developing a strategy and deciding about what kind of attorney to hire for representation.
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. Our office practices almost completely in family law and that has been the focus of our practice for many years. We know the family courts of Southeast Texas and are driven to help our clients in whatever legal circumstances they find themselves in. We would be honored to perform the same type of service for you and your family in your current child custody circumstances.
Hiring the right attorney- an important method of cost control
Once you have decided to hire an attorney for your child custody case the next step that you should take is to decide which attorney you want to hire. Hopefully, after meeting with multiple family law attorneys you will have a better feeling for the type of attorney you want representing you in your child custody case. In an ideal world, you will have found out about more than one attorney who you believe is well-suited to represent you in your case. This is a good problem to have, namely, having to decide between multiple good fits for your case.
Among those considerations when attempting to choose between multiple attorneys to represent you in a child custody case could be factors like the hourly rate of the attorney, the experience level of the attorney, the amount of office staff and support staff that the attorney can utilize as well as your personal feelings towards the lawyer. If you have little experience when it comes to working with an attorney, you should not discount your gut feelings towards the attorney and how he or she makes you feel. Just like starting a relationship with anyone, if you get bad feelings about the attorney then you should not hire him or her. Ignoring these instincts can lead to bad results and leave you frustrated when your case is all said and done.
If you are in the market for an attorney, you should ask to review a sample contract before agreeing to become a client. Take a sample contract home and review it. Some of the language you may not understand. Highlight those sections and then ask to speak to the attorney briefly about those highlighted areas. With the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have ambassadors and other employees with whom you can speak about these questions. An attorney will always be available to help you understand those sections, as well. We want you to be completely comfortable with the idea of hiring an attorney. Whether this is your fourth or first family law case your comfort matters to us. We can’t completely smooth the rocky roads of a child custody case but we can make it so you are prepared.
What are other costs associated with a child custody case?
Aside from issues related to hiring an attorney, there are other costs in a child custody case that you should be aware of as you wade into these waters. First, if you are the party who will be filing the divorce you need to plan for costs associated with filing an original petition as well as notifying your co-parent of the pending lawsuit. This means paying filing fees with the court and paying to have service completed upon the other parent. A constable or private process server is the typical route to take as far as providing notice to your co-parent of the lawsuit. The fees associated with these events will be paid out of your retainer. You can expect that your retainer will be reduced from the beginning by these preliminary amounts of money. You can talk to your attorney or legal assistant about what these costs are so you can estimate how quickly your retainer will be reduced and by how much.
Next, there will be costs associated with preparing for events like mediations, hearings, and trials. These are the attention-grabbing and very important parts of a child custody case. In reality, a family law case tends to be uneventful on most dates, but then extremely important events occur a few times during the case which will require you and your attorney to be very prepared. Preparation equals time and for a family law case time equals money. The more time that is necessary to prepare for these events the more money it will cost you. The more diligent you can be in preparation for your case before hiring an attorney the more likely you will be to find that less work must be done by your attorney and their staff during your case. That's not to say that you can perform the lion’s share of work before a case but you can and should ask your attorney if any work can be performed by you on your own time. This will end up saving you time and money.
Depending upon what stage of a case you hire your attorney, you may end up having to pay an additional retainer for the attorney to attend mediation or a hearing. This happens in extremely complex cases or in situations where the client hires our office less than a week before one of these major events. So much time and preparation are needed to perform a satisfactory job in these settings that an additional retainer will be requested before a client hires our office. For this reason, it is recommended for you consider how the timing of your hiring an attorney matters and what you can do to limit these costs by hiring an attorney far enough out from one of these major events in your case. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
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