One of the most popular questions asked in my consults is “how much is my child custody case going to cost me?” It is a reasonable question. However, there is no easy answer.
As with other professionals you hire such as a mechanic to fix your car or a plumber to fix a leaky faucet, you will get an estimate of what the service will cost. However, there are several factors that affect the cost of a child custody case and many of them are beyond your control and that of your child custody lawyer. These factors make it impossible for a child custody lawyer to give you more than a guestimate of the total cost of your child custody case.
Your lawyer should provide you with a quote for retaining them to represent you in your child custody case. This is based on the specific circumstances of your case as discussed with your attorney.
Agreement or Trial?
There are two ways to resolve a child custody case in Texas. Either the parties will reach an agreement or the case will eventually go to trial.
The cost of a child custody battle in Texas depends on the ability of the parties to reach agreements. Child custody lawyers and staff members bill hourly for the time they spend on your case. I generally like to create a flowchart of typical child custody cases so people can see where in the process their money gets them.
I explain to prospective clients that many child custody cases conform to the following pattern:
Each one of those stages may have subparts or require additional hearings in between. At each one of the stages in the child custody process, there is a chance to settle the case and not move on to the next stage. If a couple is agreeable and settles early on, then it is a lot cheaper than having to continue down the child custody path.
What I have observed is that it costs roughly $3,500-$8,500 per stage.
When I was researching the cost of child custody cases other than my own observations, what I found was:
- $3,000 to $40,000 – according to a July 23, 2018 article on legalmatch.com
- $3,000 to $35,000 – according to a 2014 article on personalfinance.costhelper.com
- $2,500 to $50,000 – according to an article on legalzoom.com
- $1,000 to $35,000 – according to an August 2018 article by Laurel King on legalbeagle.com.
These figures would be in line with my own observations of $3,500-$34,000, depending on where the parties ended up in the process.
Child Custody Battles Can Be Very Expensive
Divorce and child custody cases have a reputation for not being cheap. I have worked on multiple child custody cases when the legal fees on both sides were in the hundreds of thousands.
Some famous examples of expensive child custody cases from popular culture include:
- Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are estimated to have spent $5 million fighting over their six children.
- Daniel Giersch and Kelly Rutherford are estimated to have spent $2 million fighting over their children.
The Total Cost of a Child Custody Case is a Composite Number
As discussed earlier, $3,500 to $34,000 is a wide range for child custody costs with a lot of variables. This number is not just the cost of your attorney’s legal fees. The ultimate number will likely be a composite of:
- Attorney fees
- The cost of every expert who is called to analyze your case
- Filing fees
- The cost of hiring a process server
- Discovery costs
- Deposition costs
- If bank records or other documents need to be subpoenaed
Any additional expenses related to your case will show up itemized in your bill from your attorney.
Family Law Cases are Billed by the Hour
The cost of your child custody case will depend, in part, on the legal counsel you choose to represent your interests in your Texas child custody case. Attorneys bill not only for their own time but also for the time spent by other attorneys and their staff members who work on your case.
We also have several attorneys available that we bill out at different hourly rates ranging from $175-$375 an hour. This allows us to pair your case with an attorney that can match your budget.
We also bill out our paralegals and law clerks at rates ranging from $100-$150 an hour.
It is important to know that in most circumstances, every minute you meet with your attorney or talk on the phone is billable time. This may seem apparent, but it can be hard to remember while you are sitting in your lawyer’s office enjoying a coffee or discussing your case.
Filing Fees and Costs
There are additional expenses that will need to be paid in every child custody case, and these expenses are charged to you at cost. For example, the “initial filing for a child custody case” is between $300-$400; this cost is passed on to you at cost.
You can usually expect to pay any filing or service fees that we must pay to the court or process server on your behalf.
Additionally, you may also incur other fees such as transcript fees, expert witness fees, and mediator’s fees. We generally also charge for things like photocopies, long-distance phone calls, postage, or faxes.
Most child custody lawyers will provide you with an itemized accounting of all expenses, such as the court filing fees, deposition transcripts, and expert witness fees.
The Retainer or Prepaid Legal Fees Down Payment
A retainer is a large payment that you will pay your child custody attorney upfront. In many cases, you can think of a retainer as prepaid legal or down payment fees from which an attorney will take their hourly rate as it is earned.
As the balance of the retainer drops below a certain point, you will be asked to replenish the retainer. If your case is ongoing or proceeding to trial, your retainer may have to be replenished multiple times.
Retainers are often in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The exact cost of the retainer will depend on the complexity of your case and the level of experience your attorney possesses.
It is common to see retainers anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000 for a child custody or family law case in Texas. Complex child custody cases or child custody cases heading for a jury trial might require a down payment of $50,000 or more.
You will be quoted a retainer at your initial consultation and that retainer amount will be in your fee agreement. As such, any portion of your retainer that is not used should be refunded to you. It should be noted, however, that the retainer is generally not enough to cover the full cost of a child custody case, and there is a good chance you will need to replenish the retainer over the duration of your case.
Child Custody Case Financing and Payment Plans
One thing we do at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC is to try and work with clients on paying their legal fees by offering payment plans.
An example of how our payment plans work is as follows:
Payment Plans for
Payment Pan for
$5,000 and $1,000 a month
$2,500 and $500 a month
In this example the potential client has three options:
- The potential client can pay the full $10,000 down and have no monthly payments
- Alternatively, they could elect to pay $5,000 down and $1,000 a month or
- They would work with a Junior attorney for $2,500 down and $500 a month
Can I Make my Ex Pay for my Attorney Fees?
In most cases, you will pay your own legal fees. However, in certain circumstances, it may be possible to get your ex to pay for your attorney fees. If you are married to your ex, there are more avenues available for getting your ex to pay for your legal fees.
However, in cases where you are not married to your ex, you will have to show the court evidence that the attorney fees are necessary for the safety and welfare of the children.
We will discuss this topic in greater detail in the following chapter.
Things that Can Affect the Cost of a Child Custody Case
- How complex is the case?
- Is an amicus attorney needed?
- Is there a need for expert witnesses?
- Is there a need for witnesses?
- Is there a need for a child custody evaluation?
- Is there a need for drug testing?
- Is discovery needed?
- How long will the case go on?
- How much are you able to agree with the other parent?
- Are you going to trial?
- Are you going to a jury trial?
The most contentious cases I have seen where people fight the most usually involve children.
For example, if you and your ex are going to both fight to be the “primary conservator,” this alone can make your child custody case expensive. When child custody cases get contentious regarding children, it is not uncommon for a judge to appoint an attorney called an Amicus to represent the children.
An Amicus attorney doesn’t represent you or your ex; they are an attorney appointed by a judge to look out for the “best interest of the children.” This attorney is paid for generally by both you and your ex.
In one case I worked on in which an Amicus was appointed, the Amicus cost, for our client alone, was an additional $50,000. In most cases I have worked on, it has not been nearly that bad, but that does illustrate what is possible.
Going to Trial
Some of the most expensive child custody cases in Texas are the ones that go to trial. Part of the reason for this is because your case will have probably already been mediated multiple times, gone through the discovery process, and had at least one Temporary Orders hearing.
Then on top of those things, your case will likely need several additional hours preparing for a courtroom battle.
If your case involves a jury, you can expect your case to be even more expensive than a case in front of a judge. This is because jury trials generally take longer than trials in front of a judge. Some reasons for this include:
- There is normally at least one additional day of trial for picking a jury.
- The trial generally will take longer because there will be instances where the jury has to be sent out of the room to argue some issue in front of the judge.
- There will be a day or so for the jury to deliberate and make their decision.
- Then there will still be an additional day to argue the non-jury issues in front of the judge.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.