In criminal courts, you see the worst people on their best behavior. In civil courts, you see good people on their worst behavior. Unfortunately, this is the case for many people in the courts with a family law matter, such as divorce, paternity, and modifications of custody and support. Although it may be easy to blame others – the judge, your attorney, your ex, or soon-to-be ex, or your ex’s attorney – for your frustrations with the process, there are things you can do to ease the strain, both emotionally and financially.
1. You must realize that although your case is extremely important, so are most of the other cases on the court’s docket. You may wish to have your matter heard by the judge right away because the other party may gain some advantage while you are waiting for the courts decision. You will ask your attorney if they can go in for an ex parte hearing (i.e. an emergency hearing). In a family law case, the Cal. Rules of Court § 5.151 state, [t]hat process is used to request that the court: (1) Make orders to help prevent an immediate danger or irreparable harm to a party or to the children involved in the matter; (2) Make orders to help prevent immediate loss or damage to property subject to disposition in the case; or (3) Make orders about procedural matters…. The judges will only make a ruling on your emergency request if they feel it is a true emergency. The likelihood of prevailing is much lower when requesting ex parte orders than if you just await the court date you were assigned. This is not the case.
2. Don’t hide anything from your attorney. You should provide as much documentation to your attorney as possible, including tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, property documents, etc. Pretty much in every case you end up filing an Income and Expense Declaration with your initial paperwork. An Income and Expense Declaration is a financial statement signed under penalty of perjury that the document you signed accurately reflects your current income, expenses and assets which could be used to pay support or attorney’s fees. This document is strictly scrutinized by the other party’s attorney and if you are lying or forget something, it will likely be discovered and cause you to have to pay a portion of the other party’s fees. Pursuant to Cal. Rules of Court § 5.260(a)(3), you must file and serve a current (3 months old or less) Income and Expense Declaration for all hearings. Any time your income or expenses change, even a little bit, you need to let your attorney know right away.
3. Know the dates of any incidents and any potential witnesses before you have the attorney file any paperwork and give that information to your attorney. If you are having a problem with a spouse, ex-spouse or other parent of one of your children, start documenting the problem immediately. Write down the date of the incident, what happened and who witnessed it. Witnesses are only useful if they actually observed what took place, hearing about it from someone else is not sufficient. Your attorney should provide the court with a list of any potential witness when filing your initial paperwork. The Cal. Rules of Court § 5.113(e) states, witness lists…must be served along with the request for order or responsive papers in the manner required for the service of those documents. It is much easier for the court to know how much time to allot to your case if the judge has all of the information when you file your initial paperwork. This means, it is less likely that your case will be continued down the road.
4. Don’t stoop to the other side’s level. It is very frustrating to see someone you once had a relationship with use everything you told them against you. It is even more frustrating to know a judge will read and/or hear a bunch of lies about you, along with all your dirty laundry, and you have to sit back and do nothing. However, responding to those types of ploys do not often change the outcome of the case and just increase your attorney’s fees. Along that same line, if the other side is willing to discuss settlement, it rarely hurts to entertain that discussion. The courts offer many avenues for settlement, including meet and confer obligations, conciliation court and mediation. Utilizing these options may save a lot of money in the long run. Although you may wish to have your day in court to show the judge what a horrible person the other side is, it likely will not get you any closer to a resolution you will be happy with.
All in all, the major things you should focus on are making sure you don’t hide anything from your attorney, provide as much documentation and information regarding your case to your attorney as soon as possible and realize that the best approach to resolving your legal issue is to keep an open mind and a level head throughout the process.
*Christine Reynolds is licensed to practice law in the state of Indiana. She currently works at The Reape-Rickett Law Firm as a law clerk.