I've posted a few questions before, and every answer always comes down to the general advise that nonlawyers should not represent themselves pro se against someone with a lawyer in family court. I am trying to weigh whether legal representation is worth the cost. I've consulted with 3 family lawyers so far. Their retainers range from $3000 to $4000 and hourly rates were $400, $325 and $300 respectively. It appears this $300 to $400 hourly rate is the going rate around my area (broward county, florida)
All three attorney's I consulted gave the same range of hours it would take to resolve a basic case involving the establishment of paternity and child custody - provided it gets resolved in mediation. That's about 12 to 20 hours. As per Florida statute a respondent in family court can ask for his/her "reasonable" legal fees to be paid by the petitioner if he has the means, or net worth, to do so. In my case I do. I have the capability to cover my daughter's mother's legal fees and she is requesting I pay all of it. I would have thought $300 to $400 an hour in legal fees is beyond "reasonable" but I am learning courts in this district would consider that reasonable. If we estimate 30 hours in total for both her and my attorney we are at about $10K. That's $10K just to come up with a parenting plan and a custody arrangement. That money wouldn't force me to declare chapter 11, but it would hurt deep in the gonads.
There are no disputes from discovery. I am on a W-2 and all financial records requested by the respondent were provided. There are no other factors involved such as previous criminal records or anything like that. It's plain and simple a father trying to establish paternity and a parenting plan with mom for a child born out of wedlock.
What pretty much everyone I talked to here seems to agree on, is that judges in family court have so much discretion that in one case a father could get something like 20% time visitation and in a completely identical case 50%. There are guidelines judges use to determine "what is in the best interest of the child" but as far as setting visitation times, they pretty much go with what they personally feel is adequate.
Is it really worth it spending that money on an attorney? How much of a difference can an attorney make in getting a court to award more parenting time for one of the party's if the courts have so much discretion anyway? It appears family courts base most of these decisions on the character judgements they make of each party, meaning that in end effect, may be there isn't much a lawyer can do unless they try to alter the perception of an otherwise unworthy individual. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Should someone look at the $10K in legal fees as an "investment" in the future or something of that nature?