If you are fortunate, you and your ex will be in basic agreement about custody of your children, and you will be able to amicably settle a custody agreement. However, most custody cases are contested, and even cases that begin amicably can quickly turn sour. In all likelihood, you will require an attorney to represent you, and to help reach a resolution that is in the best interest of your children.
There may be hundreds of lawyers in your area who specialize in custody cases, so you may need to spend time weeding through a directory. The first thing to look for is that a prospective custody lawyer also be a Certified Family Law Specialist. The general field of family law also covers issues such as divorce, domestic violence, child and spousal support, division of property, and much more; requirements for certification vary from state to state, but in general, a lawyer seeking certification in family law must have devoted a percentage of his or her practice to this specialty (usually 25 percent), handled a wide variety of issues in family law; passed a written examination, as well as evaluations by peers and judges; and attended continuing education seminars in family law. In the state of California, for instance, out of nearly 200,000 practicing lawyers, only about a thousand have been certified as family law specialists, so you can narrow your choices considerably.
Any good lawyer will be happy to provide you with references. But don’t just browse through the list; call a few references and ask about their experiences with your prospective lawyer. Be sure the references that you speak with had cases that are similar to yours.
Your lawyer, obviously, should have experience in custody cases that are similar to yours. He or she should also have a successful track record in dealing with judges in your jurisdiction. Ideally, of course, a court operates on the basis of an unbiased judgment, but if your lawyer has already won cases with your judge, that is a positive sign. If you know who your judge will be, ask about any cases that your prospective lawyer has argued before that judge, or do some research and look up details on your own.
When you interview your prospective lawyer, be sure that the lawyer does not direct the interview. He or she will of course have questions for you about your case, but prepare an extended list of questions beforehand that you will ask the lawyer. You should ask about cost estimates, the estimated length of the case, and specifics regarding strategy. You should plan to interview at least three lawyers; ask them the same questions, so you can easily compare answers.
Also, make sure that you and your prospective lawyer are personally compatible. You will be spending time together discussing issues that are very personal to you, and you should be comfortable trusting your lawyer with such matters. If your lawyer is sincerely sympathetic to your case, then he or she will present that case positively before the judge. At the same time, bear in mind that, as in any custody case, the primary issue is what is in the best interest of the child. More and more custody cases are being resolved in some form of joint custody, in which both parents continue to be actively involved in raising their child. Your lawyer should not be overly aggressive, and should be willing to compromise if the parties move in that direction.