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Why Are Child Custody Cases So Expensive?

A growing number of states are realizing that child custody cases are becoming unbearably expensive for many parents.

Connecticut recently formed a special task force to determine why custody cases are so expensive and, more importantly, what to do about it. Many other states are also entering the fray, hoping to find a cost-effective solution to the growing national problem.

Here are a few of the sources behind staggering child custody case costs and what states plan to do about them:

  • Guardians ad litem. Appointed by judges in juvenile cases and family cases, guardians ad litem represent the interests of minor children and make recommendations to the courts about visitation, custody and other issues. Because child custody cases can drag on for years, parents often face six-figure costs for the services of guardians ad litem. Further compounding the issue, many guardians ad litem, who don't have to be attorneys, are charging lawyer-like rates of $300 to $400 an hour, according to Connecticut State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, as reported by The Associated Press.
  • Lawyers. If you've ever hired a lawyer, you may have been tempted to reach for an inhaler upon seeing the costs involved. When it comes to lawyers, time is money. Though the money is typically spent on services that are critical to the client's case, the "billable hours" system adds up to quite a pretty penny in the child custody context because of the protracted litigation involved.
  • Psychologists, social workers, and other experts. As parents duke it out over child custody, child support, alimony, and other issues, they can face an array of costs in addition to hiring guardians ad litem and lawyers, including having to pay psychologists, social workers and people who oversee supervised visitations.

Finding a Solution

Similar to Connecticut's task force, a committee in Maryland is also looking into the costs of child custody cases and guardians ad litem. Other states are considering new mediation programs and other measures, reports the AP.

One potential solution: Lower, standardized fees for guardians ad litem. In addition, better data collection by court officials -- to track how often guardians ad litem, psychologists, and others are appointed and how much they charge -- may help achieve greater transparency.

Remember, one of the most effective ways to minimize your child custody litigation costs is to try to cooperate with the other parent. It's no easy feat, but your children -- and wallet -- will thank you for it.

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