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How Much Does a San Diego Custody Lawyer Charge?

If you and the other parent of your child are battling it out for child custody, it’s probably time involve a San Diego custody lawyer. But you may be wondering how much one charges. This article can help.

Unlike other lawsuits, where it is easy to quantify how much the case is worth in dollars, child custody cases involve something priceless: Time with your child and the ability to make the important decisions about a child’s upbringing.

Because of this unique dynamic, it’s easy to lose sight of how much you are paying a child custody lawyer to fight for you. If you are on a tight budget, it’s important to discuss legal fees with a San Diego child custody lawyer before you hire one.

Fortunately, many child custody attorneys in San Diego are willing to meet with you to introduce themselves. This first meeting is called an initial consultation. At these first meetings, you can ask many questions about the lawyers’ background, solicit specific advice for your situation and get the details about how the attorneys’ charge for their time.

San Diego Custody Attorneys Who Charge by the Hour

In most cases, San Diego child custody lawyers charge an hourly fee. This billing method works just the way it sounds, with the lawyer billing you for each hour worked on your case.

Hourly rates among custody lawyers may vary because of a variety of factors, including:

  • Location – the going rates in areas may differ; for example, a Del Mar custody attorney may charge more than an attorney in Lemon Grove
  • Experience – more experienced lawyers may charge more for their time
  • Reputation – a lawyer who has a fierce reputation for getting his clients what they want may charge more than a lawyer just starting out on his legal career
  • Overhead – lawyers with larger staff, fancy offices and higher rents may charge more than one-man shops

Lawyers who charge by the hour usually ask for a retainer fee. A retainer fee acts like a down payment. The lawyer will withdraw from the retainer as the hours accrue. Once the retainer fee has been spent, some lawyers will ask for you to replenish it, while others will switch you to monthly billing.

Other Types of Legal Fees

You may have heard of other billing methods, such as the contingent fee or flat fee.

With a flat fee, you pay a predetermined price in advance for the lawyer to handle a specific set of tasks. Lawyers use flat fees for routine cases whose legal needs are predictable. A custody battle by definition is not routine or predictable, so custody lawyers are unlikely to charge a flat fee.

You may have also heard of contingency fees, where a percentage of a monetary award the client receives goes to the attorney. These are common in personal injury lawsuits, such as the ones that arise out of car accidents. Although a custody battle may result in an award of money in the form of child support, it is considered unethical for family law lawyers to take a percentage of this award.

Other Legal Expenses

Beyond paying for a lawyer’s time, you are likely to have to pay other related legal expenses. Such expenses may include paying for the trained counselor the court assigns to help you try to work out a parenting plan, other court fees, the lawyer’s travel-related expenses, photocopying and use of a paralegal.

It’s important to be clear about what is included in the lawyer’s hourly fee and what is not. During your initial consultations, ask about these other expenses and what they might total.

Other Ways to Hold Down the Costs of a Custody Battle

Custody battles can be expensive. If your custody battle is part of a divorce, you could consider hiring an attorney just to help you with the custody issues. This is called limited representation. In this case, your lawyer would not be able to advise you about other divorce issues, such as spousal support – also known as alimony – or division of the marital property and debts.

You and the other parent could also consider hiring a collaborative attorney. Just as the name sounds, the collaborative attorney seeks to get both sides to agree to a parenting plan. The collaborative attorney promotes cooperation, not an adversarial relationship.

If, however, you and the other parent are not able to agree, you would then both have to hire new attorneys to represent you in court.

Finally, it is possible to hire a San Diego child custody lawyer on a limited basis. This is called a consulting attorney. You and the lawyer would define the extent of the consulting attorney’s role. For example, you may just want negotiating advice. Or you may simply want a lawyer to review a parenting plan you and the other parent have devised.

It’s important to clearly define a consulting attorney’s role in your custody battle. In this way, you’ll know what to expect – and what not to expect – from your attorney.

The Nitty-Gritty

When you first meet with San Diego custody lawyers, you should ask a number of questions about how much their services cost, such as:

  • How much is your hourly fee?
  • Do you charge a retainer? How much is it? Will I eventually switch to monthly billing?
  • What other expenses will I have outside of your legal fee? Can you give me an estimate for them?
  • I’m on a budget. Can you tell me when I’m getting close to the maximum I want to pay?

The answers to these questions will reveal exactly how much it costs to hire a San Diego child custody lawyer.