Divorce and custody cases can be expensive. In fact, they usually are. Though we have cases every so often where we propose and sign an agreement within a couple of weeks, with minimal expense to the client, there are also cases where we negotiate and litigate for months – and sometimes longer – on end.
Cases where custody is involved – whether it’s part of an underlying divorce case or purely custody – are wild cards. There are never two cases that are exactly alike, even when similar issues are presented. There are a lot of factors involved, from the attorney he hires (if any) to the court where you case is located and even the judge who is assigned to your case (like all the rest of us, they are human and they all have their own biases – conscious and unconscious). That’s without even accounting for the actual underlying factual issues in the case – like whether you’re military, someone is deployed, someone has a job offer across country, where the dad is a deadbeat who hasn’t been involved, where one or both parties travel extensively for work, where there’s a child with special needs, where a parent is breastfeeding, where there are allegations of abuse or neglect, and so on. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of issues that come up, and the way they weave a tangled web through a case always creates a case that is substantially different from any other.
That’s part of what makes it so difficult to estimate costs in a case. There are also differences between types of cases – whether contested or uncontested. The words contested and uncontested just refer to whether the parties are ultimately able to reach an agreement (which means that it would ultimately be resolved on an uncontested basis – by submitting an agreement to the court for entry as an order) or not (which means that the case is contested and has to be decided by a judge, rather than the parties).
Contested cases are almost certainly more expensive than uncontested ones. Going to court means that we have to follow all sorts of rules – including scheduling pretrial conferences, attending mediation, or participating in judicial settlement conferences – before we can do things like schedule trial dates. It also means that we really have to have our evidence, witnesses, and testimony on lock down – which means completing complicated (and costly!) discovery, interviewing and prepping witnesses, and spending time preparing before a trial.
So, all of that to say – it is very difficult for me to give a ball park estimate of what your case might cost, even though I (like you, I imagine!) really value transparency in this process where there are so many uncertainties.
I will always look at a case and enumerate for a client the things that I think are non-issues (and therefore likely to not be expensive) and issues (which may up the costs – though it’s often difficult to say, ahead of time, to what degree). A lot will depend, too, on whether you’re able to financially pit yourself against your husband/child’s father. In cases where the parties are financially evenly matched, or have near equal ability to pursue litigation, things can progress to a degree that people with less means might not be able to achieve.
I still think it’s a good idea to engage in an open and honest conversation with your attorney about finances. What are your specific concerns? How would you like me to address them? I always try to tell my clients when a particular avenue would cost more money but not necessarily yield better results – but, ultimately, the client is in the driver’s seat, and I’ll pursue something if they want/need to pursue it.
A good example? Just yesterday I was talking to a client whose husband – she believed – had committed adultery. It’s a custody case primarily; there’s very little equitable distribution at issue, which is why I mention it today, in an article geared towards custody.
She wanted to pursue adultery. But her husband had filed first, and filed on no fault for the period of separation – meaning that he did not allege any fault based grounds against her. Could we file on adultery, if we have a reasonable belief that it occurred? Yes. But I think it’s worth considering what the benefit of that choice would be. Would it derail settlement? Potentially. Would it make him angry, and more likely to pursue other actions against her? Also a possibility.
And what would the benefit be? In this case, the husband was the higher wage earner – so it’s not like he could get spousal support from her. It’s not likely to impact custody, either, unless his girlfriend is a registered sex offender or a violent felon or something equally terrible – and, in any case, our ability to raise that issue has nothing to do with whether adultery has occurred, since custody cases are decided based on the best interests of the child standard.
Ultimately, my feeling was that it is better to forego the adultery claim because it has the potential to have negative consequences on the pending case, and also because it is unlikely to yield any good results for the client. It doesn’t bar him from a spousal support award that he would not be entitled to anyway, and it won’t benefit or bolster her petitions for custody and visitation. So, why do it?
I’ve written several different articles on how to save money in divorce, which I encourage you to read. The standards are really no different in a divorce or a custody case, but it definitely bears thinking about. You’re going to need to have carefully considered your options, to speak openly with your attorney, and to make – as a team – decisions that are consciously made to decrease costs and increase the value of your results.
Also consider the extent to which your attorney utilizes her paralegal, because that can be a real way to save a client considerable money.
At the end of the day, you want to feel like you’ve gotten the best result for the least amount of money, right? I want that, too, because the clients who feel happy with their results are the ones who are most likely to walk away happy with me, too.
There are some things about cost that can be controlled, and some that can’t. But careful planning can at least allow you to feel more in control – and more in the know – which is helpful and productive, especially when you’re up against an already scary family law case.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment to talk with an attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.