Issues surrounding child support can at times be overwhelming and complex for custodial and/or non-custodial parents. A seasoned and competent child support lawyer can alleviate some of the stress by guiding parents through the maze of rules, regulations, and procedural steps for making or receiving child support payments, as well as enforcing or complying with a child support order, among other things. A child support attorney can provide an assessment of the case and perform numerous tasks for his or her client, including the following:
While it can be costly to hire an attorney, it can also save time and energy as well as facilitate the child support process.
The choice of pursuing mediation or litigation as a method of resolution in child support cases is personal in nature and within the discretion of the parties. Each approach has its pros and cons. In mediation, parents have autonomy over their case and can craft customized agreements that suit their particular situation. Each parent is entitled to present its side of the story and submit evidence to a neutral intermediary. It is the parties themselves, not the mediator, who decide the final outcome by achieving a compromise. In contrast to litigation, where the parties are bound by the child support guidelines, parties in mediation can oftentimes agree to payments that deviate from the legislated standard.
Mediation is also a less costly and more expeditious alternative than litigation. Skilled individuals trained in alternative dispute resolution are often able to help parents reach a negotiated consensus in a few sessions and one that is memorialized in a written settlement agreement. Other benefits to mediation include promoting cooperation and direct dialogue between the parents and allowing them to communicate their emotions and dissipate anger.
Word-of-mouth and personal recommendations from friends and relatives are a reliable source for locating a trustworthy, knowledgeable, and suitable child support attorney. Parents may also contact their local or state bar association's attorney referral service, run searches on online legal directories such as Martindale-Hubbel (www.martindale.com) or browse through the yellow pages. Low-income parents may contact their local Legal Aid office, which provides advocacy and representation to indigent individuals.
Before retaining the services of an attorney, it is advisable that prospective clients request a consultation and discuss their case with the former. Many lawyers offer a free one-hour evaluation of the case. At the interview, a parent should inquire about the lawyer's strategy, experience, work load, response time, and fees.
On average, domestic relations attorneys charge anywhere from $100 to $500 per hour. In an uncontested child support case, a custodial or non-custodial parent can expect to pay between $2000 and $4000 for a private attorney's services. For more thorny and contested disputes involving child support, the average fee ranges from $4,000 to $25,000. Some child support lawyers charge a flat rate for services such as filing a petition for modification or other straightforward matters. Parents should ask whether filing fees and court costs are included in the lawyer's retainer or hourly rate. Low-income individuals should contact the American Bar Association and Legal Aid which provide legal resources and representation that is free of charge or at a low cost.