My new girlfriend was involved in a high conflict custody battle. I joined her legal battle in progress. I can certainly say I learned many lessons during that hell of an event. I'm here to share some lessons from her legal battle from a frugal standpoint so that you can possibly benefit financially from my experience and save big money in the process. I'm not a lawyer and I am not qualified to give legal advice - but I have seen what the battlefield looks like. Learn from my lessons (or don't).
My first suggestion is to seek outside legal consultation - and I don't mean from the lawyer you are hiring. Seek consultation from another lawyer on the other side of the state if possible. Why do this? Because the lawyer you pick will likely try to sell you instead of telling you the actual brutal legal landscape in front of you. There's a lot in it for your lawyer if you pick them. The retainer fees and the hourly fees will add up. However, I can honestly say both lawyers my girlfriend hired ripped her off royally. Not to say that they didn't do their job, but their estimates on the cost were woefully inaccurate. Maybe they underestimated the hours it would take. Maybe they naively thought the other parent wasn't high conflict. Maybe they knew all these things and wanted to run up her bill anyways. I'm not sure their exact reason, but I can tell you that the total cost came in 5x higher than what my girlfriend anticipated at the start.
I would suggest a web service like rocketlawyer.com or clarity.fm to speak to a legal expert. Choose someone that is definitely not going to be your lawyer to assess the situation. This way they can give you an unbiased professional opinion on what you are truly up against. I would also be searching every article I can find for "how to win a custody battle" if I were you. You need every competitive advantage you can get, and although I will highlight several good tips in this article, it is important to do your own due diligence before hiring a lawyer. Google searches are free and court cases are anything but free. If you have to pay for 1 hour of consulting from a trusted legal professional it will likely save you thousands throughout the process before you even get started.
My girlfriend decided to hire the rockstar lawyer at the beginning of her custody battle with her old boyfriend before I ever appeared on the scene. She had no idea it would cost 5x more than what she initially budgeted. Looking back, I wish she had never made this commitment. Not to say that her lawyer didn't perform like a rockstar at times, because he did. However rockstar performances demand rockstar fees. The legal bills get out of control and quickly.
If you have some legal experience and you can master all details of your own case, I would definitely consider pro se. I would have done pro se if it were my custody case, but not all people are comfortable doing that. There are some other options that most people don't consider. You can possibly find a lawyer that will work on your case unbundled. Unbundled means there is no retainer fee. When you need a document filed for the court or you need representation during mediation for example, you pay your unbundled lawyer to assist you. This is a great way to keep retainer fees to a minimum. Retainer fees can get super large. Ultimately it is up to you if unbundled legal services are right for your case or not. Do further research on unbundled legal services. It is possibly an option to save a lot of money.
Another choice is to find a lawyer whom will agree to handle your case on a flat rate basis. Lord Almighty I wish the lawyer my girlfriend had chosen previously would have been a flat rate for her court case, but unfortunately I didn't get to be that lucky. If you can come to an agreement on a flat rate (which is an agreed upon sum to cover the entire case) definitely consider that option and get it in writing for your own benefit.
Should we just discard any expensive lawyer just because they are expensive? Consider this strategy. If you want superstar legal representation I suggest saving the heavy hitter lawyer for the very end. The trial is more costly than all other legal proceedings. Get some quotes on that from real lawyers if you don't believe me. What is the lesson here? You need the money for the end and you need the best representation at the end. A vicious child custody battle is a war. A common war strategy is to deplete your enemy's resources (that includes financial resources) so that they tap out and give up. In a high conflict case, you very well be dealing with an opponent that will file frivolous motions to run your legal bills up. Know that this can happen before it becomes a reality for you. That is why it would be better to represent yourself pro se at the start, or go unbundled for a while, or begin with el cheapo lawyer until the trial is on the immediate horizon. This is based on my own experiences with high conflict child custody battles. Your experience may vary, but if this sounds familiar, you can probably relate. If the other side is blatantly lying about you in their motions and filings, it is no mystery. You are indeed in a high conflict case. If the other side is richer than you, prepare for this to be dragged out until you tap out because your finances are depleted to nothing and the richer person can outlast you.
Here are some additional tips to save you money in a heated legal battle. Collect all the documentation that is humanly possible to defend your side. Do not leave this up to your lawyer to collect the evidence. You should be collecting all proof and then your lawyer can determine what evidence you have in your possession is relevant or not. A smart phone can be your best friend in this scenario.
Do not run up your credit cards. That should be avoided at all costs. Instead, take out personal loans at interest rates much lower than credit cards to save you from astronomical accumulating credit card debt. This was one thing I did do correctly with my girlfriend's case with her ex, thus saving her tons of money in the long run. There are personal loan options like Discover Personal Loans, Payoff, Upgrade, SoFi to name a few. Shop around and see what interest rates you can get.
A smart financial strategy is one of the biggest keys to winning any legal battle. Win the war!