Do I need to talk to an attorney in my custody case?

Posted on Mar 22, 2015 by Katie Carter

When your relationship with your child’s father starts to go downhill, it’s normal to have questions. What should we do? Where will we go? How will we take care of the kids and pay the bills? How much will it cost to decide custody? Can he win custody? What happens after custody is decided? What if I want to move? What if he’s not really capable of being a father—but thinks that he is? What if, at the end of the day, he’s not able to make the kids his top priority?

There are a lot of questions, and even fewer answers. Sure, you can talk to your friends and family members (surely you know a couple of people who’ve been in your shoes before), but how accurate is their advice? Even if their situation seems similar, something that may seem small to you (like living in a different state, or being separated by a year or two in time) can make a huge difference. Of course, big things—like the personalities of your child’s fathers and the attorneys they hire—can also have a dramatic impact on how your custody case progresses. All the little differences add up, and the big differences can have such a big impact as to make otherwise seemingly similar cases completely unrecognizable by comparison.

So, you’re probably wondering, “Do I need to talk to an attorney?” If you’re like most people, you’re kind of hoping that it’s really not necessary. After all, attorneys cost a lot of money. Isn’t it possible just to resolve these issues yourself, without getting lawyers involved?

Still, at the same time, you want to make sure you’re getting the best information possible. You don’t want to sell yourself short, and you are (more than) a little worried about what’s going to happen to you after your custody case is decided. What about holidays? What about school? And church? How will the decisions you’ve made regarding how you plan to raise your children be changed by your child’s father after you’ve broken up? Will he honor the commitments you’ve made? Not only that, but how will you afford the mortgage or rent on your own? Not getting information could cause you to agree to something that you might not do if you had all the facts you needed at your disposal.

As you can probably imagine, there are certain situations when you have no choice but to talk to an attorney. In other cases, though, you may be able to get away without talking to an attorney at all—or just meeting with one briefly. It really depends on your specific situation, your child’s father, and what’s at stake.

How can I get some information about custody cases, just to get me started?

Before you make any big decisions (like whether to hire an attorney and, if so, whom), you’re probably in the information-gathering stage. That’s smart! It’s a really big decision, and you probably don’t feel comfortable making any big decisions just yet—at least, not until you’ve had a chance to look over the available options, get some up to date, Virginia-specific information about custody, and talk things over with a close friend or family member, too.

You have certainly come to the right place! There are lots of resources out there to help make sure you get started on the right foot when it comes to your divorce. Here’s a quick list of some of the free or low cost resources we have available to help Virginia women.

“The Women’s Custody Survival Guide”

If you’re just starting out, our book “The Women’s Custody Survival Guide,” is a great place to start. It’s available for free on our website, and you can request a copy quickly and easily if you click here.

The book, written by Kristen Hofheimer, covers all sorts of must-have custody related information, like

  • All about the ten critical statutory factors that the court MUST consider (and you must address) in your custody case;
  • How support, custody, and visitation are handled in divorce cases in the circuit court,
  • How support, custody, and visitation are handled in stand-alone cases in the juvenile and domestic relations court when no divorce action is pending;
  • How custody orders are entered and modified;
  • How different special issues (like breastfeeding, same-sex relationships, homeschooling, abuse, relocation, and special needs children) affect custody determinations;
  • What different alternatives to litigation that can help you avoid having a knock-down, drag-out fight in court;
  • How to work with your attorney, guardian ad litems, and custody evaluators on your case; and
  • What you need to know if you choose to represent yourself, and what to expect in a custody case.

Once you fill out the form to request your free copy, you’ll immediately get an email offering you the digital download of the e-book. That way, you can download it, print it (if you like), and start reading immediately—no wait for it to be delivered. You’ll also be joined in an information packed e-course filled with tons of information about custody cases in Virginia, all created for you by Virginia licensed divorce attorneys. If you live in our immediate area, you’ll also get another email, giving you the opportunity to provide a little more information (like your mailing address) so that we can send you a hard copy of our book.

“The Woman’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Lawyer”

Our newest book (written by yours truly) is designed to help Virginia women figure out what their next steps should be. If you’re facing a divorce, you’re probably wondering whether you should hire an attorney and, if so (maybe that’s a big “if,” depending on your situation), who. My book helps answer those questions, and also includes information on:

  • the questions you should be asking an attorney in an initial interview
  • how attorneys are ranked (so you can tell the good from the bad)
  • your divorce options (including do it yourself, in case you decide NOT to hire an attorney at all!)
  • 6 easy ways to save money on your attorney’s fees, and
  • what your first steps should be.

Not only that, but we’ll also provide you with a scorecard that you can take with you to your consultations. That way, you can quickly and easily compare one attorney against another, and be sure that the decision you’re making about who to hire (if you decide to hire anyone at all) is the best one for you.

Like the custody book, we’ll send it to you in electronic format right away. If you live in our immediate area, you’ll be prompted to provide more information so that you can receive a hard copy, delivered directly to your door in a discrete package. You’ll also start to receive other information by email, directly from me, with more tips and tricks for what you should be thinking about during this critical time.

“Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce”

Okay, I know—we’re talking about custody cases here, right? But custody cases can come about in a couple of different ways—and one of those ways is as part of an underlying divorce case. If you’re not getting a divorce, skip ahead to the next section. There’s a seminar for you, too. But if your custody case is part of a divorce action, a great place to start may be our Second Saturday Seminar.

Our low cost monthly divorce seminars help teach Virginia women what they need to know about the divorce process, without hiring an attorney first. Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed, experienced, Virginia divorce and custody attorneys—who is also on hand to answer your questions. During the seminar, you’ll have the opportunity to speak with the attorney, as well as a therapist experienced in handling divorce-related issues. We’ll cover all sorts of important topics, including:

  • What the grounds of divorce in Virginia are
  • The difference between fault and no fault divorce
  • How child support, custody, and visitation are determined
  • How property is divided in Virginia
  • How to determine whether you’ll receive spousal support
  • The costs associated with divorce (including how to keep them down)
  • The different types of divorce available (including do it yourself options!)

Don’t go into your divorce unprepared; get the divorce and custody facts you need now at Second Saturday.

Okay, I’ve got enough information to get started (or at least I know where to go to get it.) Now what?

Now that you’ve started gathering information about the divorce process, you’re ready for more information about your next steps. You have access to free books, and you’ve gotten information about our low cost monthly divorce seminar, where you can meet and ask questions directly to a licensed Virginia divorce and custody attorney.

But what next? Is it time to talk to an attorney?


Traditionally, talking to an attorney was the first step, because it was really the only way to get any information about how to begin to move forward. These days (at least at our firm), there are plenty of things you can do BEFORE talking to an attorney (like requesting a free book or attending our seminar). Because there’s so much information available to you beforehand, you can decide to speak to an attorney after you have a chance to consider your options and come up with some preliminary plans for how you’d like to proceed.

So, how do you know whether it’s time to talk to an attorney? Here’s a list of situations where, in all likelihood, it’s time to start talking with an attorney about a plan in your unique circumstances:

  • You have decided that, whatever shape your custody case takes, you’d like an attorney protecting you every step of the way.
  • Your child’s father is refusing to work with you.
  • Your child’s father doesn’t want to break up at all.
  • Your custody case is part of a larger divorce action.
  • You’re worried about custody.
  • You’ve been served with a complaint for divorce, or custody, visitation, and support petitions.
  • A draft separation agreement was mailed to you.
  • Your relationship is abusive, and you don’t know how to leave.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other reasons why you might be ready to talk to an attorney now. As a general rule of thumb, I think it’s safe to say that if there’s something that’s bothering you and giving you the feeling that it might be a good idea to talk to someone about it, it’s probably a good idea to talk to someone about it. After all, advice from an attorney is always a good thing to have.

When might I not need to talk to an attorney?

In some situations, you might not need to talk to an attorney—particularly if you’re preparing just to file petitions at the juvenile court level. Why the juvenile court? Well, at the juvenile court (otherwise referred to as J&D, or J&DR, or juvenile and domestic relations court), you can automatically appeal the judge’s ruling to the circuit court—so even if you represent yourself, and things go badly, it’s not the end of the world.

At the circuit court level, you’re much more likely to need an attorney—things aren’t easily appealable there, and the court system just isn’t as friendly to pro se litigants (people representing themselves without the help of an attorney) as the juvenile court system is.

Custody Bootcamp for Moms

Whether you’re planning on trying to represent yourself, want to check up on your current attorney, or just want more information about custody cases in Virginia, Custody Bootcamp for Moms is the seminar for you.

Taught by Kristen Hofheimer, Custody Bootcamp for Moms teaches attendees all about the ins and outs of custody cases in Virginia, including:

  • The ten all important custody factors that you must build your case around (and the judge must listen to)
  • When to sit and stand, what to wear, and how to address the judge
  • How to get your good evidence in (and keep his bad evidence out)
  • How to question and cross examine witnesses
  • How to survive being questioned and cross examined yourself
  • How to prepare a trial notebook, and
  • How to give an amazing opening and closing argument.

For more information or to pre-register to attend, visit our website by clicking here. (LINK)

It’s never a bad idea to talk to an attorney, but I’ve given you some guidelines here for when it’s necessary. I’ve also let you know about some free and low cost resources that are available to you, in the event that you decide you need a little more information before you make a big decision.

Need more help? Call us at (757) 425-5200. We do divorce every day, so we can help you plan out your next steps.