Doubling Down: Why Emergency Custody Matters Can Be Expensive

Even in the most hotly contested asset-based divorces, when no children are born to a marriage, costs can be relatively predictable. Although true that alimony demands can often hang up the obtainment of a divorce, most of the time attorneys and litigants alike can come close to an agreement by doing a simple cost versus benefit analysis and a rudimentary calculation of the legal fees estimated to require a complete and final cessation of the marriage.

For obvious reasons, when children become involved, the level of complexity and thus expense of litigation becomes far more extended. So, what about emergency child custody matters? Why so expensive and unpredictable? The answer is simple: multiple hearings will be needed to finalize these often heart-wrenching cases.

In emergent child custody matters, the basic landscape (with some deviation depending on multiple factors) looks something like this;

  1. An initial hearing will be required in order to determine whether in fact the children are in harm’s way and an order is issued the corresponds with the evidence presented. These orders often only last for a short duration. The standards of proof in emergency hearings is often not precisely the same as in the other aspects of the case.
  1. The court then requires a second hearing to determine whether any relief granted should be temporary or extended until a trial date.
  1. The court often holds a third hearing to determine whether or not the emergency relief should be modified, clarified, or eliminated outright.
  1. Discovery (the process of obtaining evidence from the opposition in a lawsuit) issues often require another hearing on motions to clarify whether the parties have completely followed the rules of procedure and what outstanding obligations may exist. These are often simple but can range from basic to inordinately complex.
  1. A final hearing on the merits (trial) is held. Oftentimes there may be mandated a status conference prior to trial in order to shore-up any loose ends. These status hearings are usually not terribly time-consuming, but trial can last 4 hours or even an entire week, depending on how much evidence exists.

As you can see, emergency custody matters often require not just a couple of court appearances, but often approach or even exceed half-dozen mandated appearances and a large investment of time and attorney preparation. Although there is little question that these complex cases can be won based on the quality of preparation, no quick resolution should ever be expected by a custody litigant. Trust your lawyer’s advice assuming they are sufficiently experienced. Rookie lawyers often step on landmines along the way, further complicating matters that could have been relatively simple.

In sum, it is clear that emergency matters are far from the legal equivalent of ordering fast food. I would argue that they look far more like sitting for an extended five-course meal. My best advice is to not set unreasonable expectations. Be prepared for a drawn-out war, not a brief skirmish. There is always a path forward in order to do what is best for the young and innocent lives involved.

If you need help in estimating the requirements of your emergency custody case, feel free to give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney admitted to the state bar in 2004. He is a Millsaps Second Century Merit Scholar and has received national recognition in the area of family law.

Tags: , , , ,