If you’re like me, this time of year we all start seeing social media posts about income tax returns. The memes are endless, joking about how we are going to spend our tax returns. Family law is the area of law that I maintain the least amount of cases, but it can be the area that effects clients the most. As a lawyer, this time of year can be particularly difficult because we all made it through the holidays and everyone is trying to recoup their losses. There is another side of the holidays that shows its ugly face every year without fail… custody battles. It may not be a four-letter word but sometimes “custody battle” seems to be a worse term of art. Inevitably, someone (you pick one): (a) was denied a visit during a holiday, (b) got in a fight with their significant other and wants a divorce, (c) decides now is the time to change things for the better with regards to custody of their child. Lawyers will often tell you, timing is key. For clients, many believe now is the time to fork over that retainer and get their case started.

Lawyers are expensive. Retainers can run thousands ($*,000.00) of dollars. (*Yes I left this blank because they vary so drastically) Tax time is often when you have the money to start a case with the goal in mind of resolving your personal and custody matters. Let me give you a bit of advice that is against my better interest… BEFORE you decide to take the plunge, please take the time to consider your options. Yes, I’m an attorney. Yes, we are expensive. NO, I do not want to take your retainer when you need the money to put a deposit on your new place so you can get out of a situation.

I recently told a client that I needed them to take care of themselves because their children need a strong parent to make it through a difficult custody battle. I meant it. Most attorneys have a minimum amount they require to begin a case. Before you go pay your attorney, make sure you can manage your living expenses and have good enough cushion to make monthly payments to your attorney if necessary. I would hate for you to get half way into your case and have your attorney withdraw due to non-payment because trust me, they will.

Now that I’ve scared you, let’s move onto a few other considerations you should have:

  • Will the other side have the money to have an attorney? You may have a little extra money but so will the person on the other side, or maybe someone in their family will now have the financial means to help them out.
  • Have you thought about what visitation should be and why? Sometimes even the smallest consideration for the opposite party’s schedule will prevent long hearings which will save you money!
  • Do you have the patience for a custody battle? In every custody case, weird things happen. You might have a hearing set immediately with a Temporary Restraining Order but when you get to court it gets reset to another day. Calm down!!! The other side is entitled to time go get an attorney and their attorney is usually given time to fit the hearing into their schedule.
  • Is this what I really want? There is a reason why courts require a 60-day waiting period for divorces. Do not file for divorce to scare your significant other. Once you pay that retainer your attorney is going to get started and your chances of getting a majority of your money back will go away.
  • What impact will this have on my children? This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT consideration you should have before starting a custody battle. If you and your former partner cannot be in the same room without conflict, you need to figure out a way for your children to have visitation with their other parent in a way that prevents the child from seeing your conflict with your ex. Having their family cut in two is hard enough for a child. Unless there is a real danger to them visiting the other parent, you need to think about visits beforehand.