A Kick-Ass Attorney
Rules To See You Through A Rough Time
shows that nine out of ten divorced couples work out arrangements
for their children without going to trial. For the ten percent who
cannot agree, however, things can get a little dicey. There can be
arguments about support payments, visitation rights, and the underlying
issues of "custody"--where the children live and whether
Mom or Dad is primarily responsible for them.
As with anything having to do with the law, nothing is simple. Start
with the terms. "Joint legal custody" is when each parent
has a say in school, medical and other decisions that affect their
children. "Joint physical custody" is when the kids spend
roughly comparable amounts of time at both Mom and Pop's house. But
only a tiny minority of divorced couples have this arrangement. Over
80 percent of mothers are awarded sole custody following a divorce.
Just over 10 percent of divorced fathers are granted sole custody.
Study after study affirms the common sense notion that it is better
for children to spend time with both parents. It is possible, however,
that common sense may desert your ex- during this most stressful period.
To protect yourself and your children's ability to regularly see their
dad as well as their mom, you may need to bring in a hired gun--i.e.,
an attorney. Here are eight battle-tested tips on how to find a kick-ass
attorney for a custody dispute:
of mouth is the best way to find a good car mechanic, house painter
or lawyer. Let competence be your guide in making a choice. There
are excellent attorneys who are "Certified Family Law Specialists,"
as well as some real turkeys. There are also excellent family
law attorneys who are not certified.
Prepared To Fork Over Some Real Dough.
for attorneys begin at $180 an hour. The retainer (advance against
fees) will be a minimum of $2,000. Expect to pay another, larger
retainer if your case goes to trial. Custody fights can cost $10,000
to $20,000 or in the most celebrated cases, hundreds of thousands
of dollars in attorney fees. Mediation services are less expensive,
but some cases, such as when one spouse threatens to move the
children to another city or state, do not lend themselves to mediation.
The Most Expensive Attorney You Can Afford.
family court, fathers are knee-capped at every turn. You need
to leverage the one advantage you may have--your financial resources--by
hiring the best possible advocate.
Pick An Attorney Just Because She's A Woman.
a female attorney could show you as a family guy, attuned to your
feminine side, partner of womankind. Then again, not. Ultimately
your case will rise or fall based on you and your family situation,
not your attorney's gender.
A Tough Questioner.
attorneys offer an initial consult at a reduced hourly rate in
which you can discuss your case. Make the most of it. And be aggressive.
What is his success rate in cases like yours? Realistically, what
are your chances? Does he have experience in the court where your
case will be heard? What does he know about the judges who will
hear your case? Opposing counsel?
Out About His Fees And What The Retainer Covers.
a ballpark estimate of your total costs. Does he charge for phone
calls? Will you be on the hook for her attorney fees if you lose?
Make sure he copies you on all relevant documents.
Clear About Tactics. Discuss Details.
The opposing side may try to smear you with charges and insinuations
that more resemble science fiction than reality. Even your most
caring, loving attributes as a father may be used as a weapon
against you. How does the lawyer plan to combat this?
you choose your attorney, read the contract and be sure you're
clear about it before you sign. The devil, as any lawyer will
tell you, is in the details.
Nelson is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He is the author
of "The Daddy Guide" and twelve other books. He fought
a two-year-long custody battle and trial over his daughter.
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