How Much Does a Child Custody Case Cost?

There is no fixed rate that we can tell you to budget for your child custody case. However, we will try as much as possible to uncover the approximate expenses that you are likely to incur in the process. This will act as the blueprint for making the estimates for your case. To know how much a child custody case will cost will need a lot of research into the different aspects that you are likely to encounter, and perhaps some mechanisms that will help you cut down on the costs. 

If you have resorted to a court case over mediation, then you should prepare financially to meet the costs that will come with the long process of the court. Depending on the nature of your case, you may spend much or less time. If the case is contested or goes to trial, it will be an additional expense. 

Of course, you cannot predict whether your case will go to trial or not, but if it is complex and involves a lot of tests from other experts, you should expect it to take more time, and that means more finances to meet the demands of every step. 

To have a proper budget for your case, it is always good to operate from the highest it can go. This will help you know whether you can afford or will need the pro bono services of the court. You may also need to apply for waivers at some points to cut down on the costs, but that will be determined by how well you are prepared financially to handle your case. 

Who Pays for the Custody Case Costs?

The attorney and the court fees are paid by each party. Each side will pay for their attorney fees and other related costs. However, there are some instances where some courts may consider compensating or reimbursing the other spouse who is financially incapable. That spouse is regarded as financially dependent due to their disparities in income. 

That means if one of the parents is working and the other one is a stay-home, then the court orders for compensation of the party that is less fortunate regarding their financials. Since both parents are obliged to pay for their fees, apart from those exceptions that exist with some courts, you may want to know the approximate costs that your child custody case will take for better budgeting of the same. 

In that regard, we have broken down the costs that you are likely to incur as you battle your case in court. Some of the costs are based on our observation and research. The revelations by some of the people who have been involved in the same process also helped us in reaching some conclusions.  

Hiring a Lawyer or Litigation Expert 

A lawyer or attorney will take a good proportion of your budget. Hiring a lawyer will depend on whether you will pay per hour of service rendered or a flat rate. The amount to pay the lawyer will also depend on the complexity of the case, and the experience of your lawyer. The costs, therefore, will depend on:

Hourly Rate 

You may be granted an option to choose whether to pay the lawyer on a per hour basis or at a flat rate. At this point, different lawyers charge different amounts and it ranges between $100 to $450 plus per hour. Therefore, the amount that you will pay the lawyer will depend on the total number of hours spent in your case. The more time your case will take, the more you will pay your attorney. 

Fixed or Flat Rate 

Some lawyers would prefer a fixed rate rather than pay per hour basis. A flat rate will depend on the experience of the lawyer and the duration of your case. That is determined also by the nature of the case. You and your lawyer will agree on the charges that you will pay if the case is contested. The costs for the lawyer will range from $2500 to $5000 plus for an uncontested case. For contested cases that get to trial, it can cost you between $3000 to $40,000 plus

Consultation Fee

Consultation can last for one to two hours or more depending on the nature of your case. Most of the experienced lawyers charge consultation fees that vary from one lawyer to another. The consultation fee can range from $50 to $500 or more. This is where you meet for the first time with your lawyer to discuss the facts and details of your case. 

Of course, some lawyers, whether experienced or not, offer the same service for free and if you get the same service for free, then you save on the costs that would have been involved. 

Referral Fee 

This happens when your attorney refers to other lawyers that have the expertise or specialized in the field that they may not handle properly. The referred attorney will receive an agreed percentage of the total amount that is agreed by the client. Referrals can be important when battling cases that the attorney perhaps has no expertise in.

Some matters may arise and require a different area of specialization and that is important to refer the case to a trusted and experienced attorney who will handle it to the end. 

Retainer Fees 

This refers to the fee that you pay your attorney in advance. For the lawyer to handle your case properly, he or she may need a down payment that will be used to pay for different services as the case proceeds. After the case ends and there is still some remaining amount, it can be refunded by the lawyer.

In case the process of your case takes longer than earlier thought, you may be required to make another payment for the same. 

Other Costs Involved in The Litigation Process 

Child custody case involves a lot of expenditure as we mentioned. You are required to pay for everything that comes in between your case. If in the middle of the case you are referred to a mediator, you are also obliged to pay for the same service. Some of the other costs that you will come across while battling your case in court include:

Traveling Expenses 

You should budget for the traveling expenses for all your witnesses and yourself. This cost will depend on how far you and your witnesses stay from the court where the case is heard. In addition to that, the more the number of court hearings or sessions that you may need to attend, the more you will pay for the traveling expenses. 

Suppose you may need more witnesses and experts in your case, you will eventually spend more to facilitate their travels from wherever they are to the court. Traveling costs can accumulate with time, and can amount to up to $500 or more depending on the location of the court, and where your witnesses reside. 

Filing and Administrative Costs 

Before your case is heard, you must do all the necessary filing with the court. You are required to file all the documents regarding your case and the details that would be used by the court. All the filing, documentation and administrative costs vary from one court to another. Roughly, filing for the case can range from $100 to $150 or even more. 

Process Server 

This is the person involved in getting the necessary documents and serving to the other party of anyone that may need to be served during the hearings. When you hire a process server, that is an additional cost to your budget. A process server can cost between $100 and $250 respectively depending on demand and the nature of the case. 

Court to Serve the Contesting Party

When you request the court to serve another party with orders, you might incur another cost for the same service. Some courts can charge about $50 for this service. This happens when you file for a case and you want the court to serve orders for the other partner to appear in court for hearings. It can also be used by the court to issue orders to the other party to comply with some agreements that perhaps were earlier agreed on and are enforceable. 

Fees Charged by The Court 

Each party is obliged to pay for the mandatory fees that are set by the court for particular services that are essential for hearing. That includes the costs of documentation and paperwork, the service fee that you pay the sheriff, or the appeal fee if you are not content with the outcome of the case. If you are not able to raise the court fees, you should talk with your attorney to request the court to waive the fees so that it can be affordable for your side. When that is done and granted by the court, you will eventually pay less than you would have originally paid. 

Costs for Paying a Child Expert and Facilitating Witnesses

The more the case becomes complicated, it is likely to go for trial or be contested, and the more the costs. You are likely to pay $500 or more for facilitation costs or more if the expert service is in high demand. In that regard, you will have to budget for your witnesses; that is the facilitation fee for them to be able to attend your court hearings when they are needed by the court. You will pay for their travel and other expenses that are involved. 

When the court involves third-party experts such as child psychologists, laboratory tests, and other services offered by the third party, the costs will be passed on to you. Therefore, you should budget for such costs, and even for DNA tests if the father claims that he is not the biological father of the child or any of your children in regards to child support. In this case, the court may require you and your partner to share the costs on some matters that are contested.

Buying Suits and Makeup 

Before attending the court session, you will need to be presentable. You should wear outfits that look smart and with decent clothing. You may need to buy suits, just to be presentable as your lawyer will be, and also keep other details of your dressing decent. Remember, your physical appearance matters a lot when presenting your case before the court. 

The appropriate dressing for men would include a dark suit, a tie, and official shoes. Of course, with a tie, you would need a collared shirt. All these are the expenses that you will incur with the costs of your suit. 

For women, you may need to buy some skirt suits or dark and non-patterned dresses, a long-sleeved shirt, and dress shoes. This is meant to keep you decent throughout your case. Therefore, you should buy all these to ensure that you dress for success. Don’t look shaky as this may be a bad impression for your case and you might be pre-judged on some matters that are crucial in the process of winning your child custody case. 

The costs of buying suits and other clothing that you will use throughout your case may accumulate up to $1000 depending on your taste and preferences, style, and the costs of services that you employ during your makeup. 

Miscellaneous Costs 

It’s hard to capture everything in a budget since you may incur some unpredictable expenses that perhaps are not captured in your list of items. This includes things like food, taxes, hotel bookings, and other utilities. You will also need airtime to communicate with your witnesses and attorney where necessary and that will be an additional expense you can capture under miscellaneous costs. 

The miscellaneous costs can vary from one case to another. It all depends on the duration and nature of complexity. Economically, you can set your miscellaneous costs to the utmost 10% of the total costs of your case. That way, you will be on the safe side to cater comfortably for anything that may arise in the process of your case. 

Still, on miscellaneous costs, you and your ex-partner may opt for better apps like ‘Our Family Wizard’ for co-parenting and communication. This will cost an additional amount of between $100 and $200 per year. With some mediation, you can agree to shoulder the costs with your partner so that each partner can pay less. 

Factors that Can Affect the Cost of A Child Custody Case 

As we have pointed out earlier, the cost of a custody case is dependent on many factors. There are no fixed costs since courts charge different fees. The lawyers or attorneys also charge different fees and hence the difference that results from one case to another. Factors that can either lower or raise the costs of your case include:

Contested Cases 

If the other party or the ex-partner is not content with the outcome of the court, he or she may contest the outcome. When that happens, the case is referred to trial and that is where more time is spent with the court hearings and sessions. The more time spent with the case, the more the costs would go up. 

Uncontested cases would take a shorter time. That means the parties involved are in agreement with the court’s decision and that will cut down the costs drastically. In child custody cases, especially involving one child, each parent may want to have the primary physical custody of the child. This may prolong the case if the parties don’t agree on the terms of the court. 

In some instances where the parties have agreed on a number of terms, the case can sail through within less time than when there are no prior agreements made by the parties. In between the sessions, you may be advised to meet a mediator and that also means an additional cost but that will serve to limit the time that you would have spent battling the case in trial. 

Nature of The Case 

The nature of your case will also amount to whether your costs will go up or down. If your case is straightforward, it can take less time than the complex ones. A complicated case may involve a series of expert tests, more witnesses, and pieces of evidence, and that would escalate the costs of your case. A complicated case also means that you cannot do it without the help of an experienced attorney. 

Experience of The Lawyer 

The nature of your case may dictate that you get a highly skilled and experienced lawyer to help you negotiate through your case. Many good lawyers have specialized in family law and child custody but finding one that can match your needs will require you to carry out some good research on the same. 

If a lawyer or attorney has practiced for many years and is well-versed in the area that you want him or her to represent in court, you are likely to pay higher costs as compared to when using a lawyer with little experience. 

We have compared and analyzed the costs based on the reports from different courts and attorneys and you will find that senior attorneys charge more than junior attorneys. The payment method as well can be monthly or one-time. 

A senior attorney can charge approximately $10,000 or more when paid in full. You may also choose to make a down payment of half the amount and about $1000 per month for a senior attorney. This does not apply to all the attorneys in the world. Of course, each has got his or her payment rates and terms but that is basically what you can budget on the lower side. For a junior lawyer, you should expect the costs to be lower than that of a senior. 

Custody Evaluation 

While each parent is pleading with the court to grant them the custodial rights that they are seeking, a court may find it necessary to do some evaluations. The aim of this is to ensure that the child or children are well protected and that they grow in an environment that will favor their growth and development. This may include physical evaluation of the locations where the children would grow, social amenities, and other concerns that would favor the interests of the children. These evaluations may involve some costs that are catered for by each of the parties. 

Duration of The Case 

The duration of the time that your case takes would impact significantly on the costs. The more the court sessions and hearings, the more hours you will pay your lawyer. If the lawyer is charging a flat or fixed rate, then it would be charged based on the complexity of your case. The lawyer will approximate the duration of your case and perhaps negotiate on matters that may arise in the event of contestation. 

Amicus Curiae or Attorney

The cases that involve children are so sensitive and emotive to the parents. Each parent is contesting to be granted specific rights, and especially to be the physical custodial of the child or children. In this case, the court has the responsibility to ensure that the interests of the child or children are taken care of. 

In this manner, the court may appoint an Amicus Curiae/attorney who acts as the friend of the court, but to represent the interests of the children. The costs of an amicus attorney are shared by the parties and this also adds to the case. 

Other Experts Involved 

If the other partner is a drug addict, the court may order some tests to be carried out to ascertain the impacts and perhaps the mental disorders that also require the intervention of experts. Each expert that is involved in the case will get a share of your budget. 

State or Location 

While the average costs of child custody case lies between $3,000 to 40,000 plus in most of the States, you may find some outliers where the costs are extremely huge. For instance in Texas, one mom is reported to have spent $250,000 while the father spent $500,000 and in this case, the mother won against the father to take the custody of a 11-year old boy. That shows the expenses can skyrocket depending on the State or location. However, I most cases, the costs can go up depending on the costs of the attorney. 

How to Cut Down the Costs in A Child Custody Case 

As noted, a child custody case is not a walk in the park, especially when it is contested. It may involve a series of court hearings, mediations, and tests that will eventually add up to a huge amount of money. If you or your ex-spouse have chosen to battle your case in court, then there is no shortcut on the costs that are involved. The only thing that you can do is to try and cut down the costs as much as you can if you are operating on a low budget or financially constrained. 

The following are some of the practical steps that you can employ to cut down the costs into a manageable budget:

Apply for Pro Bono 

If you are financially disadvantaged, and perhaps the other partner is well-endowed with resources, you fall on the dependent side of the court and some courts would be lenient enough to grant you your pro bono requests. Each court has a network of lawyers that work voluntarily or on a pro bono basis. Therefore, if you feel you cannot handle the costs that are involved in the process, where the huge part goes to the attorney, you can apply for pro bono and this will cut down your costs to a great extent. 

Hire a Less Experienced but Competent Lawyer 

We have discussed and mentioned that senior attorneys charge higher as compared to junior attorneys. There is no mistake in choosing a less experienced attorney that is well-versed in the area of child custody to represent your case. Rather than struggling to finance an expensive attorney with your meager budget, you can settle for a less experienced and competent lawyer and that will cut down the costs of your attorney fees by almost half.

Do It Yourself 

Some instances may require you to represent your matter in court. It is not a requirement to have a lawyer represent you in court when battling a child custody case in most of the courts. With that window of opportunity, you can choose to do it yourself. That only happens when you are well-versed with the child custody laws of your state. 

Request for Waiver 

This is another possibility that would help in cutting down the costs that are involved in your child custody case. If you are not financially able to pay for the court fees, or you have been dependent on the other partner before, you can seek the court’s’ intervention. Applying for a waiver or reimbursement will actually work in some courts. When that is granted, you will receive compensation of the same costs or better carry on with your case at the expense of the court. 

Use Mediation Instead 

Mediation can work for a better understanding of the parties involved. If one of the parties is adamant, the court may order mediation in between the sessions to help the parties agree on some matters that pertain to their custody case. Also, you may request to have mediation talks with your partner to avoid getting your case to trial. If you and your ex-partner agree on some contentious issues, then the case may take a significantly shorter time than it would have taken without mediation. 


As you would have noted, a child custody case is expensive and needs a lot of resources. If you are planning to file a child custody case, then this guide will help in approximating the costs that you may incur in the process until when your case is determined by the court. If you cannot afford to pay for all the costs that are involved, you can resort to cheaper services or employ the mechanisms that we have highlighted to help you in cutting down the costs of your case.