The Financials of Child Custody: Who Pays the Attorney’s Fees?

Financials of Child Custody

Legal disputes, particularly those involving child custody, often come with significant emotional and financial burdens. A common question posed by parents in these situations is: “Who pays the attorney’s fees in child custody cases?” This article aims to provide a clearer understanding of this issue but keep in mind that regulations can vary depending on jurisdiction and individual circumstances.

Typical Scenario: Each Party Bears Their Own Costs

As a general rule, each party in a child custody case is typically responsible for their own legal fees. This includes the cost of hiring an attorney, gathering evidence, court filings, and any other expenses directly related to their legal representation.

Exceptions to the Rule: Fee Shifting

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. In some cases, the court may order one party to pay all or a portion of the other party’s legal fees. This practice, known as “fee shifting,” occurs under specific circumstances:

  1. Disparity in Income: If there’s a significant disparity in the income or financial resources between the two parties, the court may order the wealthier parent to contribute to the less financially capable parent’s legal fees. This is done to level the playing field and ensure that both parties have equal access to legal representation.
  2. Uncooperative Behavior: If one party is uncooperative or causes unnecessary delays, the court may order that party to pay additional fees. For example, if a parent refuses to comply with court orders or provides false information, they may be held financially accountable.
  3. Best Interest of the Child: Courts always prioritize the child’s best interest. If the court believes that ordering one parent to pay the other’s legal fees would benefit the child— for instance, by speeding up the resolution of the case— it may choose to do so.

Attorney’s Fee as a Part of Child Support

In some jurisdictions, attorney’s fees can be considered a necessary expense for the child’s welfare, like food or education, and may be incorporated into child support. This means the noncustodial parent could be required to contribute to these costs.

Legal Aid and Pro Bono Services

For parents who cannot afford an attorney, legal aid societies may offer free or low-cost legal services. Some private attorneys also provide pro bono (free) services in certain cases.


Determining who pays the attorney’s fees in child custody cases depends on several factors, including the financial situation of the parties, their conduct during the case, and the jurisdiction’s specific laws. It’s important to discuss these factors with a legal professional who can provide guidance tailored to your unique circumstances.

Remember, while the financial aspect is crucial, the ultimate goal in child custody cases is ensuring the best interest of the child. As such, it’s essential to find a resolution that supports a stable, nurturing environment for the child’s growth and development. Reach out to a legal professional for comprehensive advice on navigating the financial aspects of your child custody case. If you are in the Fairfax, Virginia area, one of the best law firms to contact is Curran Moher Weis.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.