The best questions to ask when talking to a child custody lawyer touch on areas such as the lawyer’s assessment of your case, his or her legal style and philosophy, his or her expertise and background, the lawyer’s case management style, and legal fees. One of the best questions to ask is, “What is your analysis of my child custody case?” This question gets to the heart of the matter, covering what the lawyer sees as major issues, potential problems, possible resolutions, and the potential length of the case.
What Are the Best Questions to Ask When Talking to a Child Custody Lawyer?
When you interview child custody lawyers, try to find out everything you can about their opinions of your case. Questions to ask in this vein include the following.
- What is your analysis (opinion or assessment) of my child custody case?
- What do you think are the most probable or realistic resolutions?
- What are the potential problems affecting custody or the outcome of this case?
- How long will this case take, and will we go to trial?
- Do you recommend mediation or arbitration in this situation?
- How often will you give me progress reports, and what is included?
Every parent’s situation is unique. Consider yours when determining the best questions to ask when talking to a child custody lawyer. Perhaps you have special concerns about whether a domestic violence conviction impacts child custody, so ask about that. Likewise, if mental health is an issue in your case somehow, you might want to ask, “Can parents’ mental health records be revealed?”
If you are hoping to move your child to another state, delve into the specifics of that. Talk about whether a judge and the other parent might be in support of a possible move. Discuss whether the fact you are even thinking about a move could impact your entire custody case.
Other common issues that parents and caregivers discuss in child custody cases are closeness to siblings (including half- and step siblings), remarriage, grandparents’ visitation, child support, and where the child attends school.
To ensure the attorney is qualified to handle a child custody case, ask about his or her child custody caseload per year (about how many custody cases he or she handles annually). Discuss how the cases are similar to yours. Inquire about the attorney’s experience using mediation.
Make sure the attorney’s style resonates with you. The answers to questions such as, “What is your philosophy when handling child custody cases?” and “Do you prefer to give me options and for me to decide, or do you prefer to tell me what to do?” offer insight into how well you and the lawyer may work together.
Dig into the lawyer’s professional background a little. Ask how long he or she has been practicing and where he or she went to college and law school. Talk about which professional organizations and bar associations the attorney has joined.
It is essential to make sure the attorney will not be too busy or overwhelmed to give your case the attention it deserves. Ask if the attorney will handle the case personally, and if not, who will. Inquire about the other attorneys and experts involved and who your day-to-day contact is likely to be. Discuss how to best reach your day-to-day contact and how promptly the person might respond.
At some point, talk about fees. Ask the lawyers you are potentially going to work with how much they estimate your entire case will cost. Ask how much they charge, whether they need a retainer, when payment is due and how often, and other fees and expenses you have to cover.
Use your judgment to decide when exactly to discuss finances. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to ask about fees first or second. Asking early also ensures you get these money-related questions in before time runs out on your free consultation. On the other hand, if you have a flexible budget, you might prefer to wait until the end to ask about money since it is not a dealbreaker.
How Do Judges Decide on Parenting Time?
In some cases, the parents agree on how they want to split parental responsibilities. They submit a joint proposed parenting plan to the court. As long as it does not consist of any glaring errors or flaws, a judge will probably approve it.
In many situations, of course, the parents do not agree on parenting time. They can opt for private mediation, or the judge could require court-ordered mediation.
Whether the mediation is private or court-ordered, the hope is for the parents to agree on a parenting plan themselves. If they continue to disagree after mediation, then the judge decides on parental responsibilities and legal child custody (Allocation) in Illinois based on the best interests of the child. Legal child custody (allocation) gives parents the right to make legal decisions relating to medical care, education, and religious upbringing, among other things. The default is for judges to give both parents legal custody (allocation). This holds even if a judge gives one parent sole physical custody (allocation), it is likely the other parent still has legal custody (allocation).
To determine the child’s best interests for physical and legal custody, judges tend to rely on expert reports and factors such as each parent’s wishes, the child’s wishes, and the child’s relationships with parents, siblings, and other critical people. Additional important considerations are how adjusted the child is to his or her home, community, and school, and the mental and physical health of the child and parents. The judge also is supposed to weigh any domestic violence and sex offenses. However, it is common for intimate partner violence to not factor into court decisions, according to research from the University of Illinois.