Divorce cases involving children can quickly escalate. Even parents who swore they would stay civil for the kids can find themselves embroiled in a contentious custody battle. Hiring a family law attorney with experience in child custody cases is the best way to keep the situation from spiraling out of control. This article answers some of your frequently asked questions about lawyers and costs in a Colorado child custody case.
Child custody matters are some of the most important and also contentious cases in family court. A person who represents themselves will be held to the same standard as a lawyer. You don’t want to miss out on the court hearing important evidence or testimony because you don’t know the rules of evidence or missed a legal deadline. Not only will your lawyer be able to help you build a strong case for custody, they will help you understand your rights as a parent and guide you to an outcome that will best serve your child and your future.
Generally each party will be liable for his or her own attorney fees in child custody cases. However, there are certain circumstances in which the court may order one party to pay the other’s attorney fees.
If the court finds that one parent has filed a frivolous motion against the other parent, that parent may be ordered to pay the other’s attorney fees. This can happen when the motion “lacked substantial justification” or was a means of harassing the other parent. Colo. Revised Statutes § 13-17-102
One Arapahoe County mother was ordered to pay her former husband’s attorney fees after she filed a frivolous motion to change custody. In her motion, the mother claimed her daughter was depressed and unhappy living with her father and that multiple mental health professionals had recommended placing the child in her mother’s custody.
However, the court ultimately found that “the mother misled her experts and had a scheme for obtaining custody.” Weber v. Wallace, 789 P.2d 427, 428 (Colo. App. 1989)
Child custody attorneys charge an average rate of $250 to $450 an hour.
Many times, what you pay largely depends on the complexity of your case and the level of experience of the attorney you hire. Family law attorneys will usually bill clients by the hour. The more issues in your case that are contested, the longer you should expect the case to take to resolve. You can also expect your attorney fees to be higher if mediation or negotiations failed and you have to go to court to resolve the disputes.
Generally, adults only have a right to legal representation when they have been charged with a crime. Parties in family law cases are rarely entitled to court-appointed counsel, although there may be an exception if you are the subject of a contempt motion and they are seeking jail time as a sanction. The situation is also different for children. While parents must hire their own attorneys in a child custody case, in some instances the court may appoint an attorney—called the child’s legal representative (CLR)—to represent the best interests of the child.
A court may decide to appoint a CLR on its own, or one of the child’s parents can file a motion requesting such an appointment. Your child’s legal representative may not be called as a witness in the case. C.R.S. § 14-10-116
Finances are understandably a major concern for many family law clients. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not so cut and dry. Many contested cases go to trial, which means extra work for your family law attorney (gather evidence, prepare questions, and anticipate the opposing party’s questions) and more costs for you. Additionally, you’ll have to factor in the time your attorney will spend in the courtroom with you. While many custody hearings wrap up in a half day, others require a full day, and sometimes the case isn’t decided for a few days.
Every case is different. A number of unforeseen circumstances can drive up the costs in your child custody trial.
Here are a few questions you may want to ask your attorney:
- Have you had experience with similar cases?
- What are my possible outcomes?
- Which legal strategy will you use?
- Are there any alternatives to going to court?
- What role will I play in my case?