I talk a lot on this website about resolving cases amicably, out of court. I believe strongly that this is the best way for a divorcing couple to settle their divorce matter. Unfortunately, there are situations where going to court cannot be avoided. This morning I am going to court for one such situation, so I thought that I would address how to avoid 5 big mistakes that people make when going to family court.
- Being Late. Being on time just seems like a no-brainer to us lawyers (most of us anyway), but so many clients just don’t understand the importance of being in the courtroom, ready to proceed, when the judge takes the bench. If you are even a few minutes late, it could mean the difference between being heard first or having to wait around until the end of the day to have your issue heard. It could also mean the difference between having your case heard or having it be dismissed entirely (this happened to a case I was defending last week, the Plaintiff showed up as we were walking out of the courtroom with our dismissal in hand!) So please, even if you have to get up at some un-Godly hour to make sure you don’t hit traffic, don’t be late. And it somewhat goes without saying, but make sure you know where the courthouse and courtroom is!
- Dressing Inappropriately. This is another one of those “duh” mistakes, but again is often overlooked. If you are a guy, you don’t need a suit, but slacks and a tie would be appropriate. If you are a girl, dressy casual is ok. Back in my public defender days, I represented an individual charged with criminal battery (i.e. he punched someone). He showed up in court wearing an Everlast (the company that sells boxing apparel and products) t-shirt. Even the judge asked the defendant if he thought that was an appropriate shirt to wear when he was being charged with hitting someone!
- Not meeting with your lawyer ahead of time. My office typically tries to set up a meeting with our clients for a day or two before the hearing. Most client’s comply, even if it means taking some time off of work. Some don’t. This is a huge mistake. By meeting with your lawyer ahead of time, you can go through your testimony and let the lawyer decide what is important and what does not need to be asked. In addition, the lawyer can talk you through any potential problems areas that you may need to “explain” to the judge to lessen their impact. So when your lawyer calls you up and asks to you come in before the hearing – do it.
- Waiting too long to get disclosures to your lawyer. In almost all family law cases, initial disclosures are required. These are the financial documents that your lawyer needs to prove your case to the court. If you wait until the day or even week before the case is scheduled to go to court to send these to your lawyer, it is too late. Your lawyer is now going to be spending all their time going through your finances to prepare for the hearing instead of analyzing them to find ways to help you in court. There is a reason we ask for these multiple times after you hire us. Get these documents to us early and update us regularly.
- Not being proactive with your lawyer. There is a saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The same is true of family law cases. If you are proactive with your lawyer, your case is going to get more attention. If you don’t take an active role in your case, then your case is going to get less attention. Just because you hire a lawyer, does not mean that you can go about your days, and just forget about the fact that you are getting a divorce. You must stay actively involved in the case. If the lawyer asks you for information, it is imperative that you get it to them right away. When we ask you for a financial affidavit, you need to work on it, and if you don’t understand something, call your lawyer for help. That is what we are here for. We can’t represent you in a vacuum with no information. If that is what you wanted, then you could have saved your money and represented yourself.
So that’s it, the 5 biggest mistakes that people make when going to family court. Just to recap, here is what you can do to avoid them: show up to court on-time, and dressed appropriately. Get your initial financial disclosures to your lawyer early in your case and make sure to schedule a meeting with your lawyer for a day or two prior to the scheduled hearing. Finally, be proactive in the management of your case.
Following this advice doesn’t guarantee that a court will rule in your favor, but it greatly increases your chances for success in the event you end up in family court.