Child Custody Cases and the Cost
by Gary Port /
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February 4, 2008
My father, God rest his soul, had a sign over his desk which read “In the law, nothing is certain but the expense.” He told every client that walked in that the sign was not a joke.
That sentiment is doubly true for custody cases. Let me state up front: custody cases are expensive and there is absolutely no guarantee of success. In fact, I’m going to be adding that language to my retainers because no matter how many times and different ways I say it, someone will hear what they want to hear.
Let’s talk expense. The first thing a New York divorce or family court judge does when she hears the words “custody battle” is to appoint a law guardian. The law guardian is an attorney hired by the court to represent the interests of the child in the battle. Guess who pays for the LG? Not the court, the parties. The court could divide it 50/50, 60/40, or 100 percent to one party. It is based upon the financial resources of the parties, and the discretion of the court. I never predict how that will turn out. But, generally speaking the person making the most money will pay the most money.
In the average custody case, the LG can end up billing at least $15,000 and many times will bill more than that.
Next, the court will appoint a forensic psychologist to interview the parties, the child, and whoever is living with the parties. The average price tag for the report is $10,000. If the psychologist needs to testify at trial, expect another $7,000 to be added to the bill.
Before you even pay your lawyer, you can be out of pocket $25,000.
You must also pay your lawyer. I was involved in a particularly nasty custody battle that lasted three years, had numerous courts appearances, several appeals and ended in a three week trial. The legal cost to my client was in excess of $120,000.
So, what do you get for all the money you shell out? This is not a game, the person with the most money is not guaranteed to win. There are many factors that must be weighed and considered by the court. Ultimately, the decision is in the discretion of the court. Any lawyer who claims to be able to predict the result of a custody battle is a fool or liar.
And as tough as a custody battle is, motion to change custody is even tougher. The courts require that there be a strong showing that the custodial parent is unfit, and it is in the best interests of the child to change custody.
In future posts, I addresses some the factors that the courts consider. But, be advised, custody is expense, emotionally draining, and unpredictable. Before you walk this path, consider your options very carefully. Think it through, discuss it with your family and lawyer. Then chose wisely. In the end, it is your decision whether to take this path.