September 22, 2023

Epic Law

The Law Folks

How to Select a Child Custody Attorney

Most parents say the most important part of their lives is their children. Parents will literally die to protect their kids. So, it makes sense that child custody disputes are a particularly emotional area of law. For that reason, you need to have an advocate who doesn’t have a personal stake in the outcome to help you through the process. But how do you pick an attorney who can get you the best result?

Focus on Family Law:

Too many lawyers think that if they can handle general civil and criminal matters, they can handle family law too. These lawyers don’t stay on top on all of the cases that are handed down.

When you talk to an attorney, ask him what percentage of his practice is Family Law. If it’s not 75 percent or more, move on to the next person.

Find out whether he completes Continuing Education in Family Law on a regular basis. He should attend at least one multi-day seminar a year to review the changes in the California Family Code and the decisions handed down by the Appellate and Superior Courts. Family Law is actually the area of law in which changes – often dramatic changes – are made from year to year.

Experience Counts:

You know the saying “everyone has to start somewhere.” But do you want an attorney starting on YOUR case? You want someone who has been in the courtroom on a regular basis for several years. Your attorney shouldn’t be learning on your dime – your case, and your children, are too important for that.

A good attorney should have hundreds of cases and dozens of trials under his belt before you hire him. This is the only way you can be sure that he won’t miss something basic.

Even experienced attorneys can be come complacent so quiz him on the current state of family law and the practice habits in the local courts.

Comfort in the Courtroom:

Do you know there are attorneys with 20 years of practice who have never tried a case? While your case may not go to trial, you need to have a lawyer who is not afraid to go to trial.

There are attorneys who specialize in “mediation.” When mediation works, it’s great. You and your ex make the decisions. It tends to lead to better co-parenting relationships.

But if your attorney will not take your case further if mediation doesn’t work, then you have to start over with a new attorney which can be an expensive step. Also, if your attorney is afraid to go to trial, he may make concessions to avoid the courtroom.

Background and Philosophy:

What is the attorney’s background and philosophy? Different attorneys are great at different things. For instance, there are family law attorneys with accounting backgrounds who specialize in high net worth property division. They’re really great at dividing the Lear Jets. But, their center of focus is not on child custody, visitation, and support issues.

That’s why you need to know what an attorney’s background and philosophy is. If your case involves allegations of molestation, for instance, an attorney who has worked for the Public Defender or District Attorney may provide some special insight into the case. Also, you want the attorney to be child-centric. He should understand and like kids. He should share your vision about doing what is in the children’s best interest.

Action Plan:

Before you hire an attorney, get him to outline his strategy. Too many attorneys want you to sign on the dotted line and turn over a check before they’ll reveal an action plan. Don’t fall for it.

You need to know what you are getting yourself into upfront. While it is hard to predict how much time or money a family law case will take, you should know what the attorney’s goals are and how he plans to get there.

Additionally, if you have any concerns such as phone calls returned within 24 hours or a cap on spending, make sure that it is included in the action plan and the retainer agreement.

Fees and Agreements:

Child Custody attorneys almost always work on an hourly basis. It’s smart to call several attorneys before you make an appointment and find out what the “going rate” is.

You don’t necessarily want the cheapest reason. One reason is obvious – you get what you pay for. But another reason is that lawyers whose hourly rate is low may “make up” for it by padding their billing.

Also you should know what the minimum billables are. For instance, it is standard for an attorney to bill in quarter-hour increments. So, you will pay the same rate for a five minute phone call as you would for a fifteen minute conversation. Also, court time may be billed in two hour or even half day increments, even if the proceeding only takes a few minutes.

Read the agreement and make sure that everything you discussed is included.

Choosing a Child Custody attorney is a major step. You’re trusting a lawyer with the most important part of your life. It’s worth investing your time in conducting a background check before you invest your money.