Familial ties can be very fragile; a fact proven by the increasing divorce rates across the country. When children are involved, the costs – mental, emotional and financial – become even steeper. Usually, arriving at a friendly settlement, where the child’s interests and welfare are considered paramount, is less expensive and stressful; however, more often than not, the opposing parties end up becoming confrontational and it is left up to the legal system to sort out the issues and grant child custody as appropriate. Under such a complicated situation, many parents are left befuddled with many questions about child custody and wonder how much does child custody cost.
How much does child custody cost is an ambiguous question which gives rise to apprehensions. Such apprehensions are enough to confuse you, but remember, the custodial cost depends on the custodial arrangement. The different types of child custody arrangements and the costs associated with each type are discussed below.
Child custody laws and procedures vary from state to state and it is important that you find out how the system works before starting any legal proceedings. In most states, uncontested child custody arrangements, i.e. those agreements which are mutually agreed upon, without any legal intervention, should be lodged with the appropriate court of jurisdiction. Filing fees range from $100 to $1000 at the upper end, inclusive of any administrative costs will need to be paid.
Overall, child custody arrangements (disputed or otherwise) are categorized as follows:
- Joint (or shared custody);
- Full custody to one parent;
- Split custody; and
- Third party/non-parental custody, including the child being designated as a ‘ward of the state’.
Split custody refers to an arrangement when there is more than one child and each parent takes full custody of each of the children. This type of arrangement, i.e. separating children and assigning custody to each of the parents, is not usually encouraged by the courts.
Contested child custody cases can be very heavy on your wallet, especially when lawyers are involved and there is a necessity to appoint impartial evaluators such as psychologists or counselors. A brief break-up of costs which can come up during a custody battle is listed below:
- Cost of initial consultation with a family law or child custody lawyer as a one-time fee or based on the lawyer’s hourly rates - $50-$500.
- Retainer to be paid up front once your decide to hire the lawyer to take up your custody case – usually a lump sum amount based on an estimated number of hours of work done by the lawyer – as above, the retainer can cost you $500-$5000 for 10 hours of work.
- Court appearances are charged at a higher hourly rate - $100-$1000.
- The cost of preparing, filing and court fees – up to $1000.
- Hiring of expert witnesses, custody evaluation experts, preparing depositions, etc – between $5000 and $10,000.
- Miscellaneous, administrative costs such as photocopying of documents, courier or postage charges, serving of summons, etc – up to $5,000.
The total cost of a contested child custody case can cost you anything between $1000 to $50,000, depending upon the procedures involved, the custody complaint filed by either of the parties, the court’s determination of the child’s ‘best interests’ and attorney fees.
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