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How Much Does a Pittsburgh Custody Lawyer Cost?

If you and your children’s other parent have decided to part ways, your No. 1 concern is likely to be who will get custody of the children. A Pittsburgh custody lawyer can advise you based on your particular set of circumstances. But that’s probably got you wondering how much that advice will cost.

This article can help.

The size of your total legal bill is influenced by several factors:

  • Your lawyer’s hourly fee, also called an hourly rate
  • How long it takes for you and your ex to reach an agreement or have a judge decide the issues for you
  • The amount of related legal expenses you will be expected to pay

How Pittsburgh Child Custody Lawyers Charge for Their Time

As mentioned above, child custody lawyers in Pittsburgh charge by the hour. You may have heard of other billing methods among lawyers, such as the flat fee and contingent fee.

The only time a family lawyer will charge a flat fee is when there are no children and no disputes between a divorcing couple. This is called an uncontested divorce, and the process is fairly predictable, enabling lawyers to charge a flat fee. Child custody battles are, by definition, disputes, and therefore not predictable.

When a lawyer charges a contingent fee, it means the lawyer takes a percentage of a monetary award the client receives, often seen in personal injury lawsuits – auto accidents, medical malpractice, slip-and-falls and the like. Even though there may be an award of child support money in custody disputes, it is considered unethical for family lawyers to take a percentage of one parent’s child support.

Charging Clients by the Hour

A Pittsburgh child custody attorney’s hourly fee can be influenced by any factors, including the lawyer's:

  • Experience – more experienced lawyers may charge more
  • Reputation – a lawyer who’s known to be a “pit bull” in child custody cases may charge more
  • Location – the going rate may vary in different parts of town, for example, a child custody lawyer in Shadyside may charge more than a lawyer in the Hill District
  • Overhead – a lawyer with a bigger office, higher rent and larger staff may charge more than a sole practitioner

Pittsburgh child custody lawyers also usually ask for a retainer fee, which is a large, first-time payment which the attorney draws on for the payment. You would receive monthly statements showing the withdrawals from the retainer.

After the retainer fee is used, some lawyers will ask that it be replenished, while others will switch to monthly statements.

Another detail of the hourly fee is the increments in which it is charged. Some lawyers break the hours into 15-minute increments, some into six-minute increments. That may seem insignificant, but it’s not.

Take the example of a 5-minute phone call. The lawyer who charges $200 an hour in 15-minute increments just charged you $50 for that conversation. The lawyer who charges $200 an hour but in 6-minute increments only charged you $20. It clearly adds up.

With a lawyer who charges by the hour, it is easy to see that how long it takes you and your ex-partner to resolve your custody dispute will have an impact on your final legal bill.

Because emotions often run high in custody cases, it can be easy to lose sight of how much you’re paying. With other types of legal actions, such as personal injury lawsuits, it’s easier to calculate when your legal bills have exceeded the value of the case.

When it’s the custody of your children on the line, it’s harder to determine how much you should spend. If you have a dollar amount you do not want to exceed, ask your lawyer to let you know when you are getting close to your limit.

In addition to your lawyer’s time, you may also be responsible for other related legal expenses, such as the cost of a mediator, court filing fees and office-related expenses such as photocopying and use of a paralegal.

Questions to Ask a Pittsburgh Custody Lawyer

To better understand how much your custody battle may cost, ask Pittsburgh child custody lawyers you interview during your attorney search these questions: 

  • What is your hourly fee?
  • What other expenses might I pay? Can you give me an estimate for them?
  • Do you charge a retainer? If so, what is it? Will I have to keep replenishing it, or will you switch me at some point to monthly billing?
  • Although every custody battle is unique, based on what you know about my case, how much might I end up paying?
  • Can you give me regularly updates about where I am in terms of legal fees and expenses?

When you have the answers to these questions, you’ll then know how much it costs to hire a Pittsburgh child custody lawyer.