How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?
This amount that a custody case could actually cost varies from case to case. If you are paying a lawyer, your legal fees could depend on things like the amount of conflict between the parties and how much your attorney charges. Also, there are court costs such as filing fees and possibly for serving the papers on the other parent. If you cannot afford to pay the costs, you can ask to file an affidavit (known as an affidavit in forma pauperis or a pauper’s affidavit) in which you inform the judge that you are a low-income person and ask the judge not to make you pay the court costs.1 It will be up to the judge to decide whether to waive the court costs or not.
It is generally best that you try to get an attorney to represent you. Getting an experienced attorney who is familiar with custody laws and domestic violence can help present your case to the judge. If you have to hire an attorney, often the attorney will ask for what is called a retainer. A retainer is a lot like a down-payment or a deposit. It is money you pay your attorney up front to secure his or her services and it usually covers a certain amount of hours of the attorney’s time. Then, once the attorney uses up the retainer, you may have to pay your attorney an hourly rate for his/her future services.
If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be able to get free legal services – you can find organizations near you on our Oklahoma Finding a Lawyer page. However, these organizations do not have enough attorneys and resources to accept every case. Even if you meet the financial requirements of that organization, it does not mean that they will definitely handle your case. If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.
Note: If you have been the victim of domestic abuse or stalking and are seeking custody of your child, the court can order the abuser to pay for your attorney’s fees and costs of the custody proceedings if you request this. You would first have to prove to the judge you are currently being stalked or have been stalked or that you are the victim of domestic abuse by the other parent in order for the judge to grant your request.2
1 12 O.S. § 922
2 43 O.S. § 112.6