In 2018, divorce rates in the United States dropped to 39%. That’s an 11% decrease from the once well-known statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.
But the hard fact that 19.65 million U.S. kids live with a single parent still remains. The main reason? Their parents split.
As hard as your divorce was (and may still be), it’s not over until you make sure you get custody of the kids. It may be sole or joint, legal or physical — what matters is that you still get to see your little ones.
Your choice in a child custody attorney will have a massive influence on the results of the case. That’s why you need to find and hire the best child custody lawyer right off the bat.
We’ve outlined below the most important things to look for in one, so be sure to keep reading!
1. Focuses on the Children’s Best Interests
If your divorce was difficult for you, your kids may have it worse. Early studies found that children of divorce score lower in various ratings. These include achievement, ability to adjust, and general well-being.
Researchers also found that kids from a divorced household have more behavioral problems. Their self-esteem also tends to be lower, and they find it harder to form social relationships. Younger children are especially vulnerable, as they may think they’re at fault.
Adults can prevent these complications by considering the child’s best interests. In fact, there are U.S. laws on child welfare specific to divorce cases.
These laws help ensure that kids of divorce remain happy, secure, and mentally healthy. That they have proper emotional development even after their parents split. And that their folks’ divorce won’t have long-lasting negative effects on their well-being.
Your primary goal should be your kids’ best interests, and so should your lawyer’s. While all child custody attorneys know these laws, not all focus on practicing them.
So, be on the lookout for lawyers who don’t show that much interest in your kids’ welfare. That may be a sign they value the payout more than your little ones’ best interests.
2. Keeps All Matters Professional
While your marriage may not have been the perfect one you wanted, the lawyers you’ll talk to weren’t part of it. So, they shouldn’t be badmouthing your ex, no matter how bad things may have gotten between you two. You’re already in emotional distress, and someone talking about your ex in a bad way can stress you out even more.
You may encounter lawyers who’ll tell you right away that you should go for sole custody. Without even reviewing your case. That’s a clear sign they’re not focusing on your children’s best interests.
Only good child custody lawyers will tell you why joint custody is almost always the best route. Compassionate lawyers don’t want their clients to get into a messier custody dispute.
Of course, this still depends on your specific case, such as if there’s a history of abuse with your ex. You can learn more here about child endangerment in divorce and custody cases.
3. Is a Local Practitioner of Child Custody Laws
Like how you’d hire a local commercial real estate attorney, it’s best you stick to a local custody lawyer too. First, because child custody laws vary from state to state. The best child custody lawyers in Georgia may not be that much help to Indiana parents.
Case in point: Georgia laws allow children age 14 and older to choose whether to live with mom or dad. In Indiana, kids can tell the judge their custody preference by age 11.
Second, a local lawyer is easier to get in touch and meet up with than one who practices outside your state. Granted, lawyers can be well-versed and have practiced in various states. But if they’re too far from you, that can make communication difficult.
4. Specializes in Child Custody
Child custody only makes up a small part of family law — there’s divorce, visitation rights, and alimony too. Some lawyers specialize in high-asset divorces, while others focus on spousal support. They may do a great job on those, but that doesn’t mean they’ll also do a great job on child custody cases.
So, it’s not enough to choose a family lawyer — choose one who specializes in child custody. Do your research and be certain the legal professional matches your and your kids’ needs.
5. Has Experience with Cases Like Yours
Each child custody case is different, but some still share similar familial circumstances. Such include high-conflict cases, abuse history, or when parents live in different states. Cases that involve children with special needs are also complex but common.
These have a high likelihood of going to trial, so you want a lawyer experienced in handling them. You’ll also feel more at ease if you choose a lawyer who had success in handling cases (like yours) that went to trial.
This is one thing you also want to do when looking for other types of attorneys, such as personal injury lawyers.
6. Recommended by People You Trust
Ask for referrals from people you trust who’ve also had a child custody case. Other family members or friends may be able to recommend a child custody attorney. The keyword here is “recommend” and not only “know”.
A lawyer you’ve worked in the past, say a slip and fall attorney, is also a good source. Reputable lawyers maintain a professional network of highly-rated colleagues. To keep it that way, they’d only recommend a good custody attorney they know can help you.
7. Is in Good Standing
Use your state’s attorney directory to check the standing of your prospective lawyers. This platform will tell you if they’re in good standing or if they had their license suspended in the past. You’ll even learn why they had the suspension in the first place.
In fact, some states require lawyers to divulge this information. If they have a suspended license, they can’t continue practicing in their state.
8. Calling and Gauging Your Prospects
Before an actual visit to the law office, ring up your prospective lawyers first. A person’s voice can tell you a lot, such as if they’re compassionate and inclined to help. The person you’re talking to should at least make you feel at ease.
Child custody is complex, so it’s understandable if you’re confused and have a lot of questions. If the person on the other line sounds hurried or abrupt, that’s not a good sign. This may mean that the law firm may not give your case the time it deserves.
While you’re on the phone, ask about initial consultation fees. Some of the best child custody lawyers offer the first consultation for free. Take advantage of this as it’ll help you decide if you can and should work with the attorney.
9. Interviewing Each of Your Prospects in Person
A face to face interview gives you a clearer look into an attorney’s personality and style. Observe their behavior, such as if they keep looking at their watch or take calls while talking with you. If they’re not giving you the time of the day now, they most likely won’t in the future.
Be sure to ask if they’ll handle your case on their own or have others work on it. If they’ll collaborate, ask why and how they’ll help your case. The lawyer should give the names of these other parties, as well as referrals.
Ask about the communications process and how they’ll share case updates with you. You want a lawyer you can contact any time or at least call you as soon as there’s a case development.
Also, inquire how many cases the lawyer is working on at the moment. You can’t expect to be the only client, but it may not be a good idea to choose a lawyer with too many open cases. That lawyer may sacrifice time for your case to deal with higher-profile cases.
10. Checking and Comparing Fees
While you can’t put a price on your kids’ well-being, you still need money to raise them well. And since your divorce has already cost you a lot, make sure your finances can afford another lawyer.
Request each law firm for an estimate of your case’s cost, and if possible, a breakdown of fees. See if there’s anything that you can save on and don’t hesitate to ask the lawyer about it.
Ask about payment methods too, as well as scheduling and structure. This’ll help you prepare your finances better and ensure on-time attorney payments.
Satisfy Your Child’s Best Interests with the Best Child Custody Attorney
Child custody cases are emotionally -and physically- distressing. Especially in cases of estranged spouses or downright bad marriages. The best child custody attorney will ease some of that burden from you and the kids.
They’ll even help you have better chances of settling things with your ex. Most of all, they’ll help you protect your rights over taking care of your kids.
In need of legal advice specific to personal injury law? If so, you should read this guide on hiring a personal injury attorney.