Tag: Westport Attorneys

What is Child Custody in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • The term “child custody” can be broken down into two separate definitions, legal custody and physical custody.
  • Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the child(ren). Major decisions include those relating to a child’s education, health/medical, and religion. Based upon my experiences as a Connecticut divorce lawyer I can estimate that over 95% of Connecticut parents have joint legal custody. It is certainly the exception for a party to have sole legal custody.
  • Physical custody addresses the schedule of which parent has time with the child on a given day. In actuality, a parent who is with a child one day a week has physical custody of that child on that day. At times, language is written into a divorce agreement establishing a child’s residence for school purposes.

What happens if the Parties Do Not Agree to Joint Legal Custody?

  • In the event the parties cannot agree on joint legal custody the process is called a contested custody case. This will mean that third parties will become an integral part of the case. For example, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child to investigate and make a recommendation as to the best interest of the child(ren) or an AMC to represent the child(ren).
  • After hearing all the relevant information in such a case a Judge will decide custody based on the “best interest of the child(ren)”.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed to ensure that the children’s best interests are represented in the event of a custody battle. A GAL may be an attorney or mental health professional. Connecticut has specific certification requirements in order for someone to be appointed as a GAL.
  • The GAL will meet with various individuals involved in the child’s life, including the parents, therapists/counselors, close family friends, teachers, and anyone else who has a strong tie to the family and the child. A GAL will analyze this information and make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the best interests of the child(ren).

What is the Role of the Attorney for the Minor Child in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • An Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”) is generally appointed to represent the child(ren) in cases involving older children. While there is no specific age at which an attorney will be appointed, I find that children in middle school and high school are more likely to have an attorney appointed to them rather than a GAL. The attorney has the ability to represent the child’s wishes, but also is concerned with the child’s best interest.
  • Unlike a GAL, an AMC will not be permitted to testify during a trial. However, the attorney may and will ask questions of the parents as well as other third parties on the witness stand.

Who Pays the Fees of The Guardian Ad Litem/Attorney For The Minor Child?

  • The parties are responsible for the fees however it is not always an equal split. A court may apportion a different percentage to each party depending on the parties’ financial situation. These fees can and will become costly in the event there is a contested custody trial.

As experienced Fairfield County divorce lawyers, the lawyers at Broder & Orland LLC have represented both mothers and fathers at trial in complex contested custody matters. These cases can and will become expensive, and sadly, have a lasting impact on the children and the parents. We work hard to resolve custody and parenting disputes to ensure that the children’s best interests are always at the forefront.

What Will My Divorce Cost?

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

  • The complexity of your case is a cost factor but the size of the marital estate may not be a major factor.
  • Cost may depend on opposing counsel.
  • Retainers and hourly rates aren’t always indicators of projected costs.
  • You can minimize the cost of your divorce case by being a cooperative participant.
  • Adopting realistic expectations will reduce costs in the long run.

What will my divorce cost? This is one of the most frequently asked questions of divorce lawyers at an initial consultation. Every client should make sure to have this discussion up front. But don’t be surprised if the answer is: “it depends,” because it does depend on many factors, some of which are outlined below.

The Complexity of Your Case

A common myth is that it is related to the wealth of the parties. This is not necessarily true. Some of our ultra-high income/high net-worth cases in Greenwich and Westport are the simplest ones. Conversely, some of the very moderate financial cases can be trickier, and thus more time consuming. Custody cases are by nature protracted and typically costly. But certain cases that at the outset appear to be custody cases, are really more about parenting time and access, and thus resolvable in a reasonable time frame.

Opposing Counsel

Experience, abilities and approaches vary widely amongst counsel in Fairfield County and beyond. We typically ask, “Who will be representing your spouse?” As experienced lawyers, that gives us great insight into how the case will be handled. Will opposing counsel be inclined to work cooperatively and collaboratively? Or will we experience scorched earth tactics? The answers to questions such as these provide a window for us as to the tenor of the case, and consequently, the cost.

Retainers and Hourly Rates

You will find these will vary from lawyer to lawyer and deciphering the projected cost of your case can sometimes be confusing. Divorce lawyers are free to set retainers as they see fit. But be careful. Don’t project costs on the retainer alone. Some divorce lawyers may quote low retainers but will be entitled to receive refresher retainers if your retainer funds run out. Other lawyers may have higher retainers and then will refund any portion not used. Virtually all divorce lawyers bill for their time as they go along. Hourly rates for divorce lawyers vary widely but again, the hourly rate doesn’t tell the whole story. A very experienced divorce lawyer may charge $750 per hour and a much less experienced may charge $500 per hour. At first blush, you may be inclined to think the lower rate is more cost effective. However, the very experienced lawyer may move through your case a lot quicker, requiring less preparation and research. It may be hard to do the analysis since most divorce litigants are new at this, but you should be able to get a better feel for it once you have your initial meeting with counsel. Also, you can hopefully rely on your referral source for further clarity.

Cooperation with Counsel

Most often there are opportunities to streamline costs by cooperating with your lawyer, especially with regard to discovery. This means taking the initiative on your own to assemble documents which we know you will be required to produce. Responding to your lawyer’s e-mails and calls in a prompt manner also saves time and money. Clearly developing an agenda prior to a call or meeting will result in greater efficiency.

Adopt Realistic Expectations for the Resolution of Your Case

So often, too much time is wasted on staking out unrealistic positions or posturing for a perceived tactical gain. Most divorces involve negotiations, so to some extent there will naturally be some back and forth, but it is critical to be strategic rather than adversarial. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide you with a context for settlement or a likely outcome after trial. You should rely on that advice and be amenable to working through your case in an efficient way to achieve the likely result. It can be a pyrrhic victory to achieve your best case scenario, only to pay more in fees than it cost to achieve that result.

Despite the cost-saving measures discussed above, there are certain aspects of divorce litigation that sometimes cannot be controlled and which will drive up costs. The court system itself is often riddled with delays and unexpected twists and turns, which are not the fault of your lawyer. At Broder & Orland LLC, we have vast experience in litigating and settling divorce cases and always strive to make our cases most cost-effective for our clients.