There’s no getting around it: Child custody cases can be expensive. If you’re paying the fees for a child custody hearing without any saving or planning, then your costs will only increase the burden of an already stressful court case for you and your child.
But, you can prepare yourself – and maybe even lower your costs! – before the first bill comes due.
Get the answers you need to these three questions about the costs of custody cases in Maryland.
- How expensive is a child custody case?
- Who pays the lawyers and other case fees in a child custody battle?
- Is there a way to lower your costs – or get the other party to pay them?
Custody Cost Question #1: How Expensive Is a Child Custody Case?
In the United States, the cost of a child custody court case can range anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000-plus.
The range is huge because of the many different issues that spring up during child custody cases. Lawyer’s fees account for a large part of the overall total, but there are other expenses, too.
Type of Custody Dispute: Contested or Uncontested
Much like divorce, there are different types of custody disputes. Your case can be contested – where the other party doesn’t want to get along or you can’t agree on major decisions – or uncontested.
Uncontested child custody cases are going to cost less to resolve than contested cases since both parties already agree on most issues. Uncontested custody cases also present the option to use mediation rather than a trial.
While mediation isn’t free, it is definitely the less expensive option.
Specialists and Expert Witnesses in Custody Cases
In aggressively contested custody cases, the court may call an expert or a specialist to give their opinion. These witnesses – like doctors, psychiatrists, and other experts – can be very expensive.
Even if the dispute is friendly, the parties involved might still need to go through a custody evaluation. And, that evaluation isn’t free.
Custody Attorney Fees
Attorney’s fees depend on how quickly the case is solved.
For custody cases, lawyers typically charge by the hour of time worked in a case, not a “flat fee” one-time payment. So, the faster the resolution, the lower the invoice.
That’s another reason why uncontested or mediated custody cases are cheaper: Your lawyer spends less time in court!
Miscellaneous Custody Fees
Budget for miscellaneous fees during custody cases – you’ll definitely need the cash.
Whether it’s paying a sheriff to serve notices or copying hundreds of extra papers at the local printer’s, you’ll inevitably rack up extra costs.
The court may also order mediation before granting any party custody, in addition to litigation and other court fees. Mediation fees vary, and you can’t complete the custody case until you go.
Custody Cost Question #2: Who Pays Attorney Fees?
Usually, each party is responsible for paying their own legal fees for child custody cases.
However, Maryland courts have exceptions if one person is significantly more financially stable than the other. If one party cannot afford legal help or there is some extenuating factor, then a judge may order fees to be compensated.
Only a “dependent spouse” may have their fees compensated. Dependent spouses rely heavily on their partner – soon to be former partner – for financial support.
Though the classic example is a stay at home parent, the court can declare a dependent spouse even if you are both working. This situation arises if there is a large enough income difference between the two partners.
“De Facto Parents” and Court-Granted Compensation for Custody
Under Maryland law, the “de facto parent” – the person clearly taking care of the child –may be eligible for their fees and costs to be covered by other parties in a custody hearing.
For example, let’s say one parent is an absentee drug addict, leaving the other to care for the child alone. The other parent would be considered the de facto parent.
A de facto parent may not even be a parent at all. If a relative, family friend, or even neighbor is the one reliably caring for the child in question, then that individual is the de facto parent.
A court may award fees – including reimbursement of attorney costs and any money spent to care for the child – to a de facto parent involved in the custody case after considering:
- The financial status of each party;
- The needs of each party; and
- Whether or not the custody case is justified and worthwhile.
“Bad Faith” Court Fees for Custody Cases
Family law is the most efficient when both parties act in good faith and are focused on coming up with a solution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Bad faith can creep up in cases and slow down the process.
Acting in “bad faith” means that you or your ex-partner are purposefully trying to stop or slow down the case. For example, if one party is dragging their feet to provide documents or show up in court, then their actions are considered bad faith.
Another common example is hiding martial assets in the hopes that the partner doesn’t get to claim any of it.
If the opposing party is caught acting in bad faith, then they will face consequences for slowing down the proceedings and trying to deceive the court. Commonly, one of those consequences is to pay their spouse’s attorney fees.
Custody Cost Question $3: How Can You Lower Custody Case Costs?
Perhaps the best way to lower any potential custody case costs is to get a prenup.
If you and your spouse decide to get one, then you can put a clause in a prenup that you both pay your own lawyer fees. Or, one spouse could agree to pay for all lawyer fees for both parties.
However, if you proceed with that language, then also put in writing that each party will receive separate representation. Otherwise, you could run into conflict of interest issues and not have ethical legal support.
If your prenup specifies that you must pay your lawyer’s fees but you can’t, you can ask the court to reject your prenup.
They can always deny your request, of course, but it might be worth asking under the right circumstances. (Ask your lawyer if this is a viable option for your situation.)
If you didn’t put a clause in a prenup – or you don’t have one! – then you may still request that your ex-partner reimburse your custody attorney’s fees.
If you feel like you should get your fees from the other party, then you should put it in your initial pleadings. Or, you and your lawyer may “file a motion” – that is, send an official document to the court – for it later.
Again, the court can always deny your motion. However, you can’t get what you don’t ask for!
The Law Office of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, LLC can help your family come to the resolution it needs to get back to normal without charging excessive fees. And, our initial consultations are always free, so you can judge for yourself if we’d be the right Firm to help keep your family safe and happy.