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Funding a child custody case: Attorney’s fees are only part of it PDF Print E-mail
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Written by James Roark   

A hotly contested child custody case in Harris County is likely to rack up some hefty attorney’s fees.  No surprise there.  Not everyone has the ready funds to match an attorney’s retainer demands in such cases.

Often, waiting to save up for a retainer is not an option.  Either you have been served a petition and have a short time to respond, or you learn of a situation that requires fast legal action to assure the well-being of the child. You manage to pull it together from a variety of sources, at least enough to get things started. At least now you have some breathing room, right?  Maybe.

The first order of business is the hearing for temporary orders.  That is, giving the court a preliminary presentation of the facts so it can set some ground rules for the parties to abide by during the pendency of the case.  Witnesses testify, documents, pictures, and other exhibits are presented.  What follows is hypothetical, but not beyond the realm of possibilities.

The judge can’t decide and needs more facts.  An amicus attorney is appointed to represent the child.  Ideally, this attorney will interview you, the child, the other party, and visit the homes to compare living environments, and participate in all other aspects of the case.

Cost: $1500 per side to start, and if it goes to trial, could be more than what you pay your own attorney.

Second, let say paternity is in issue.  Genetic testing is ordered.

Cost: $400-700 (the losing end of the test pays).

There are allegations of odd and erratic behavior on one side, and on the other, a prescription for Prozac that expired ten years ago.  Both sides allege that the child is “acting out” after each period of possession.  Psychological/psychiatric evaluations are ordered for everyone.

Cost: $1500 and up.

The truth comes out that you have been dating a musician that has tattoos.  A hair follicle drug test is ordered.

Cost: $80-120.

Of course, in all such cases, each party must complete a parenting course.

Cost: $40.

You may be excused from the standard parenting course if it is suspected you have deeper issues. You are ordered to attend a more intensive 18-week “parents in conflict” course.

Cost: Based on your income!

The hearing for temporary orders is still re-set until all of the above is completed.  When you return for that hearing, it appears everyone is sane, drug-free, has biological standing to be there, and is properly programmed to be a good parent.

The judge reviews all the expensive evidence previously ordered, considers arguments of the attorneys, exhibits, and testimony of witnesses – and then rules according to what the amicus attorney recommends.  A temporary order is finally issued which, to no great surprise, does not satisfy one or both of the parties.

Unless there’s been some domestic violence issues, you must go to mediation before proceeding to trial.  A mediator listens to both sides and tries to come up with a suitable compromise.  This is probably something the attorneys should have done already, if it actually can be done.  I never understood the value of mediation in custody cases.  You either want custody or you don’t.  There’s not much middle ground.

Cost: $400-1500 (but, possibly free).

These are all costs generated by requirements of the court.  There is little your attorney can do to control them except argue that they are not necessary.   Like I said, this is an extreme hypothetical, but this list is by no means exhaustive.  A metropolis as large as Houston provides the court with scads of agencies and programs to include in its arsenal.   It makes you wonder how the courts in smaller, outlying counties of Texas get by.

Oh, yes....the cost of a firm, decisive  ruling on temporary orders at your first appearance?:



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