Legal fees in child custody cases are as varied as the lawyers who charge them. While the average cost of some items is easily calculated -- used car and gasoline prices, to name a few -- attorney fees are not among them in any type of case. What a client will pay for representation in a child custody case will vary based upon several factors.
Experience Level of the Lawyer
Brand-new law school graduates who have just opened their own offices will generally charge less for a child custody case than their counterparts with decades of experience in more established practices. While what constitutes a "good" lawyer depends upon more than just how long one has been in practice -- there are plenty of incompetent attorneys who have been losing cases for more than 20 years and young stars who can hold their own in any courtroom -- expect to pay more for experience. Also expect to pay more for a board-certified specialist in family law than you would for a general practitioner who may handle several types of cases.
Where a child custody lawyer practices also has a lot to do with how much she charges. As a rule of thumb, lawyers in rural areas and small towns tend to charge less than their colleagues who practice out of tall office buildings in big cities. The higher cost of living in urban areas has a lot to do with this, but it also relates to the differences between rural and urban lawyers' clienteles. In general, lawyers in larger cities have greater access to wealthy clients and can therefore command higher rates than equally qualified attorneys elsewhere.
Type of Firm
While education, experience and geographic location are important determinants of what a child custody lawyer will cost, the type of firm in which the lawyer practices is also important. Smaller firms tend to have fewer staff and therefore lower overhead costs than their colleagues in big firms with dozens of lawyers. A family law attorney in a large firm may be part of a practice group that exists to serve the personal needs of the firm's business clients. These clients will generally have greater resources than those of the solo practitioners' clients and be more willing to pay higher legal fees.
Needs of the Case
All other factors being equal, the greater the complexity of the child custody case, the more a litigant will pay in legal fees. Lawyers generally charge by the hour in contested custody cases, although some may charge a flat fee. A hotly contested case marked by a high degree of acrimony between the parties will translate into more work for the lawyer; more work for the lawyer translates into higher costs for the client.
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