The Average Cost of a Custody Dispute

By Beverly Bird

Divorce almost invariably costs money – sometimes a lot. If a custody dispute is part of the proceedings, you can expect additional costs. Several expenses typically crop up, which you and your spouse would avoid if you agreed to a custody arrangement on your own. Average costs depend a great deal on where you live. Professional fees in one area can be higher than those in others, but the services you'll require are pretty consistent across the board.

Mediation

States often require divorcing parents to attend mediation if they can't agree to a parenting plan on their own. This is usually the first step when custody is contested – the court won't rule until you've exhausted every option for avoiding trial. In mediation, a trained third party works with you and your spouse to help you negotiate a workable middle ground for custody and visitation terms. In some states, such as New Jersey, this service is free. In others, such as Maryland, the court may waive the fee under certain circumstances. If the court doesn't order mediation and you want to attempt it on your own, you'll have to pay for it yourself. Mediators might charge by the hour, or they may set a flat fee for a number of sessions. You can typically find the cost for court-ordered mediation by checking your state's website.

Custody Evaluations

If mediation fails and you must go to trial, the court may order a custody evaluation. In this situation, a trained professional meets with you, your children, and your child's other parent. He may also interview third parties, such as your children's teachers, physicians, or extended family members. He then makes a report to the court, which may include a custody recommendation. The court isn't bound by the evaluator's opinion, but the judge can use it for guidance when making his decision. One California county caps this expense at $1,200, but if the evaluator favors you as the custodial parent and you want him to testify in court, this will cost you an additional $100 an hour for his time. Evaluations can get pricey. For example, in Virginia, they can run as high as $6,500 for complex cases. No matter where you live, you can probably count on a custody evaluation being a major expense.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Guardian Ad Litem

Some states, such as New Hampshire, will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent your children's interests if your divorce involves a custody dispute. This is in lieu of requiring a custody evaluation, but you must still pay for the expert's time. New Hampshire limits this cost to $1,000, but the guardian ad litem can file a motion with the court to ask for more money if your dispute is particularly complicated. Some states require that you pay for both a custody evaluation and a guardian ad litem, as the guardian is assigned to represent your children's best interests in the proceeding and acts more as an attorney than an evaluator.

Legal Fees

If you hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce, he will undoubtedly have to invest more hours if custody is disputed. Uncontested divorces – those where spouses agree on everything, including a parenting plan – can cost as little as $2,500 in some areas. Attorney fees for a contested divorce can jump to as much as $50,000 if the battle is particularly heated, or even more than this if you also have a lot of financial issues in dispute. Some states, such as Maryland, require that each party hire an attorney for court-ordered mediation. If you find that you need professional help, you will need to add the costs of your divorce lawyer to the other court-ordered requirements involved in the custody dispute.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Georgia?

References

Related articles

Who Pays for a Divorce in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, as elsewhere, divorce can be extremely expensive. If your divorce is uncontested and you can agree on how to resolve the important issues, the costs are significantly less and you and your spouse can fund the proceedings with marital income. If your matter is contested, however, each of you is typically responsible for paying your own attorneys' fees and costs. This can leave one spouse at a disadvantage if the other out-earns her to a great extent, but Tennessee law balances this in some ways.

Divorce Attorney Consultation Questions

With a few exceptions, most divorce lawyers can adequately get the job done. The vast majority of divorces never go to trial; spouses generally come to terms regarding a settlement with the help of their attorneys. A lawyer’s courtroom savvy and expertise may not be as important as her ability to negotiate and to communicate with you. Before you consult with anyone, make sure she specializes in family law. Then ask questions to determine whether she’s right for you and your particular case.

What Is the Process After I Pay My Divorce Lawyer the Retainer Fee?

Divorce can be a long, expensive road to travel, or it can be relatively quick and simple, depending on your ability to reach a settlement agreement with your spouse. The lawyer you choose will probably have a good idea which way your divorce is going to go after meeting with you for an initial consultation. Based on this, most divorce attorneys require a retainer fee. The fee is roughly equal to how much time he thinks he’s going to have to invest to get you divorced, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

The Average Cost of an Uncontested Divorce

When you and your spouse agree to divorce and you also agree about how you’re going to separate your lives, an ...

The Average Cost of Divorce in Missouri

Divorces don't just happen to people who can afford them. Attorneys' fees and court costs in Missouri are on par with ...

The Average Cost for Divorce

According to a 2006 article on Forbes.com, divorce proceedings can range from a few hundred to many thousands of ...

Inexpensive Divorce Options in New Jersey

Just as a puppy is less expensive to care for than a full-grown dog, the older your divorce case gets, the more money ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED