When asking yourself, “what is the average cost of a custody lawyer”, in many cases, the answer is found in the degree of complexity of your family law matter and how well the parties get along with each other.
The cost of a custody lawyer is primarily driven by the degree of cooperation between you and your ex-partner in relation to the arrangements and provision for you children post-divorce.
High degrees of cooperation and harmony will deliver you the best outcome, both from a financial and an emotional viewpoint.
Complex cases = higher average cost of custody lawyer
The average cost of a custody lawyer is directly related to the complexity of your case and the degree of animosity between the parties seeking custody of the children.
If you are just squabbling over drop off and pick up times during handovers and a few hours here and there, your legal fees may range from $5,000 to $10,000 and this would presumably include making final parenting orders and agreeing on child support.
Again, this is where both parties are working harmoniously to achieve a common and hopefully, agreed upon goal.
Unfortunately, in custody disputes, this level of harmoniousness is rarely the case.
Generally speaking, to hire a custody lawyer in Australia you can look at hourly rates from as low as $350 an hour to $650 or more.
When engaging a custody lawyer you will also be charged for work performed by support staff such as paralegals as well as any court filing fees, which can be substantial. Court and filing fees could be around $1000, but this varies from state to state.
You will also be charged each time you telephone or email your lawyer for advice so try and only do this when absolutely necessary. If you cannot agree on a settlement and parenting orders you will need to take the other party to court and this is where your costs will shoot up.
What going to court will mean?
Taking a matter to court will require at least $20,000 for trial and this amount will balloon up depending on the price of the barrister who will be representing you in court. You will also need to engage an Independent Children’s Lawyer in most cases – your solicitor should organise this and the court appoints a designated ICL.
An ICL is usually appointed by the court via an application by one of the parties and in a case where:
- there are allegations of abuse or neglect in relation to the children
- there is a high level of conflict and dispute between the parents
- there are allegations made as to the views of the children and the children are of a mature age to express their views
- there are allegations of family violence
- serious mental health issues exist in relation to one or both of the parents or children, and/or
- there are difficult and complex issues involved in the matter.
In custody disputes, it is not uncommon for a husband or wife to allege that the other parent was in some way mentally unwell or subject to drug /alcohol/gambling addiction problems and is therefore unfit to be a parent or play any role in the children’s lives.
Regardless of the degree of animosity, once your matter reaches court, you will find yourself in the position of having to defend your performance as a parent and a human being.
The court will appoint an agreed-upon Family Report Writer and this process costs around $10,000 – $20,000 for the writer to complete their assessment and usually this sum is split between both parties – the husband and the wife. There may also be child dispute conferences which you must attend.
Briefing barristers (or counsel) will cost you between $2,000 (for the work experience kid/junior barrister) to more than $6,000 a day for a more seasoned professional.
How to keep your legal costs low
You need to research all the family law firms in your area including reading any Google reviews before you engage your preferred specialist. You can also search family law judgments and you can analyse your potential law firm’s performance during those trials.
Modern firms now have websites and/or blogs also providing information about legal processes around separation and divorce. You can learn a lot about any prospective candidate well before you decide to contact them and are perusing their costs agreement.
If your divorce and separation are relatively amicable, then you should do everything in your power to agree to mediate children’s issues and then have the parenting orders drafted to reflect agreed arrangements. Successfully doing this will save you tens of thousands of dollars potentially.
Try and stay calm and focused when dealing with your lawyer and the other party. Family law, and particularly custody, matters can become very emotional, very quickly. Stay focused as much as you can. Also if you find yourself getting anxious or fearful that you will lose access to your children, know that your demeanor will be used against you in court by your ex and their lawyers.
Keep your eye on the prize and keep your focus narrow and specific.
For example, if you want to have a week about with your children – insist on this and explain why it is in the best interests of the children. Don’t talk about your interests or rights as a parent – the family court system in Australia focuses upon the best interests of the child.
If your lawyer needs financial information to bolster your case, compile this yourself rather than simply sending your lawyer to liaise with your account, stockbroker, (bookie), and so on. A simple decision like this could save you about $800 – for several hours’ work where paralegals or even your actual lawyer are running around chasing up this information.
For simple issues try and insist that your law firm only uses the more junior person/secretary/paralegal to complete that work. An hourly rate of $100 per hour is a lot better than paying a senior lawyer $650 to do a land titles search of your investment properties for production in court.
So, in a nutshell, when trying to minimise the average cost of a custody lawyer, your best approach is to aim for a mediation or settlement outside of court with your lawyers present where both parties agree on parenting orders.
If your situation is acrimonious and you have no alternative but to go to court, you need to remain calm, provide your lawyer with all documentation with the focus on what your end goal in relation to custody will be.
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.