My name is Shauna M. Albright. I have been practicing Family Law for twelve years now and would like to believe that I have seen it all. I have appeared in court hundreds of times on custody and visitations issues alone. Custody and visitation issues are by far the most important issue in Family Law. Parents love their children and simply want the judges to understand their love for their children through their words. Over the past 12 years, I have witnessed self-representing litigants with the best intentions argue about what is in the best interests of their children. In many cases, the parents are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The end result is often that one or both parents leave the courthouse feeling that their words were not heard or that the court was unfair. This blog will offer five practical tips to help you with your custody case. Each case is unique and should be examined on its own merits. However, my hope is that this blog will give you an attorney's perspective on how to make general compelling arguments in court.
KNOW THE RULES AND PROCEDURES: In order to understand what is important and what is not, you have to know the rules and procedures. Once a party files a motion for custody and vistitation, both parents will be ordered to attend mediation (now known as the recommending counseling session). I tell my client's that you case if often won or lost in your counseling session.. The recommending counselor's job is to assist parents in coming to an agreement regarding custody and visitation. Most of the time both parents will be ordered to attend this session before stepping one foot into the courtroom. Attorneys are not allowed in the counseling session. If the parties cannot come up with an agreement, the counselor will make a recommendation to the judge who will hear your case. Although judges are not compelled to follow the recommendation, if the recommendation is not in your favor - you will have an uphill battle in convincing the judge that the recommendation is not in the best interest of your child. With that said, it does not mean that you cannot convince a judge as both parents will have an opportunity to argue their case - it simply means that your arguments need to be convincing.
BE PREPARED: I cannot express this one enough. First impressions are lasting impressions. Before you attend your recommending counseling sessions, make sure your responsive declaration (if you are responding to the motion) is filed with the court five days before your session. I find this helpful as it will give the counselor an opportunity to read your side of the story before the session begins. You want to include any and all relevant evidence to your paperwork. For example, if you allege that the other parent is aleniating you from seeing your daughter, you should attach text message exchanges, emails or 3rd party declarations to corroborate your story. Because attorneys are not allowed to participate in the counseling sessions with their clients, it is so important that you are prepared. You should know what you are asking for and why. Judges and counselors care about what is in the best interest of your child. Your arguments will fall on deaf ears if you start to attack the other parent out of pure emotions. Although everyone understands that this is an emotional time, the judge will focus on finding a solution that is in the best interest of your child. For example, if one parents is requesting that the child lives with him full time but he is a truck driver and is often away from home - you most likely will have a compelling reason as to why your child should not live with the other parent full time. Please remember that you and the other parent know your child better than anyone else. Often times the judges do not even know your child's eye color or hair color. If all possible, I suggest sitting down with the other parent to find a solution. If this is not possible, then gather your evidence and know exactly what you want and offer convincing reasons as to why your proposal is in the best interest of your child.