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Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Should a Party Conduct Themselves in Court?

Whether or not you have an attorney, the following are general rules you should consider if you plan on appearing in Court:
  1. Be to be on time and check in with the bailiff.  Failure to arrive promptly could result in a decision being made without your input or your matter being completely removed from the Court's calendar.
  2. Dress like the case matters to you.  You do not need to be in a suit, but you should be clean and neat.  No jeans, shorts or hoodies.  This should go without saying, but the attire I see in a Courtroom never fails to surprise me.
  3. When appearing before the Judge, stay calm and keep a relaxed face.  The Judge is watching your expressions and monitoring your behavior.  Don't cross your arms.  Sit up and be attentive.  If you find yourself becoming upset, simply ask the Court if you may have a moment to compose yourself.
  4. DO NOT argue, talk at or to the other party.  When the Court asks you a question, you are to respond to your attorney, or the Court directly, if you have no attorney.  If you have an attorney, that person will address the Court with  your comments, or direct you to answer the Court yourself.
  5. If custody is at issue, remember this child is not an immaculate conception, it is "our" child, not MY child.
  6. You don't have to like the other side, but be respectful.  It is not helpful to make snide comments about your child's other parent, or accuse them of "lying."  If they make a statement you believe if inaccurate, you may address the Court when it is your turn to talk.
  7. NEVER INTERUPT the Court or the other parent.
  8. Keep your cheerleaders at home.  You do not need to bring a crew of people with you.  Often support people insert themselves into your case, or agitate the other side, both of which are not helpful.
  9. Bring a pen and paper, copies of the documents you have filed, and a filed proof of service for each document you have provided the other side.  It is also a good idea to bring an extra copies of any document you have filed, in case your paperwork did not make it into the Court's file in time for the hearing or was misplaced.  Keep your documents organized so that you can access them if the Court asks you a question, or asks to see a document.  And, if there are any documents you plan on presenting to the Court, bring copies for the other parent, yourself and provide an original to the Court.  Be warned, however, the Court will rarely accept documents on that day, preferring instead each document be properly filed with the Court and served upon the other party.
  10. Be prepared to reach an agreement.  You should come armed with what you want, and what you will agree to.  There are many times the Court will direct you to discuss your matter out in the hall with the other side to see if you can reach some middle ground.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to have some alternate ideas about what result you are seeking.
  11. Know that the paperwork that was filed and responded to contains the "issues" that will be discussed in Court.  If the paperwork has boxes for custody and visitation checked, you will not be discussing who gets the house.  If you are in Court for support, it is highly unlikely the Court will address matters concerning custody of your children.  With that in mind, bring notes about what you want to discuss with the Court, to keep you focused.  Often when folks get nervous, they tend to bring up anything and everything, resulting the Court shutting them down.  Unfortunately, when this occurs, they often have not even brought up the issues they came to court to deal with.
  12. Regardless of the result, thank the Court and exit the Courtroom with dignity.  It is highly possible you will appear again in the front of the same Judge and misbehavior is remembered. 
For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Focus on the Children and Not the Fight

    I had an opportunity to review the article "Keeping parental ties strong after the divorce" Chicago Tribune (February 22, 2011), and while I agree with much that is said, there is so much more to add. 

    The article states to "focus on the children, not the fight;" nothing could be closer to the truth.  I often see good people go bad when they get wrapped up in what each other is doing or not doing right. I often stress to clients to be true to yourself, your children, and your own parenting style.  Don't say no to another parent's request (say for a special day with the children) because that parent denied you the same.  When the children come home with school picture order forms, or report cards, make a copy for the other parent, regardless of whether or not they do this for you.  You have to be the adult, you must take the high road and quite frankly, frequently this is very very difficult.  Yet, in the long run, it will benefit your children.

    Remain a part of your children's lives. 
    I would add, if you relegated child centered responsibilities to the other parent during your relationship because they were home with the children, or available during the day, you need to change your thinking.  You are now a single parent.  When the children are ill, YOU will stay home with them.  When they need medical care, or even childhood immunizations/check-ups, YOU will take them to the doctor.  YOU will attend parent teacher conferences, etc...  If you want to be an integral part of your children's lives, you need to act like it.  It is difficult and costly to take time off work, especially when the other parent is available.  But, as a newly single parent, you are now responsible for the children and their needs during your custodial time.   If you relegate those responsibilities to the other parent, you will find yourself parenting your children part-time; rarely a desired result. 

    Don't bad-mouth the other parent.
    I love this.  If the other parent is acting poorly, you don't need to tell your children.  Kids aren't stupid and a parent's misbehavior will not go unnoticed by your children. Again, it is important to take the high-road.  It is always tempting to want to defend yourself when the children bring a comment the other parent made about you to your attention.  Again, don't bite.  You will just be dropping yourself to their level.  If the other parent's behavior is so egregious that you are unsure how to respond to the children's comments and questions, do your children and yourself a favor and speak to a counselor who specializes in children and find out what you can do to ease their discomfort and learn ways to deal with the other parent's negativity in a healthy manner.  I remember a case where the mother was constantly causing problems for the father, simply out of spite.  The father later told me the child asked him, "Why is mommy so mean?"  Kids miss little.

    For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Behave Yourself!

    Nothing frustrates me more than seeing two parents who cannot simply exchange the children from one car or house to another without controversy.  I am not willing to assign blame; yet, I am more than mindful in these situations there is usually one parent who feels the need to bait and harass the other one.  The trick is to NOT bite!  First, children aren't stupid, if you behave yourself and the other parent doesn't, the children see it.  They may not figure it out now, but they will intuitively know at some point in the future which parent conducted themselves properly.  Second, you're children don't need this garbage.  Let them love you both without having to apologize for it.  When you drive up to the other parent's car, or home, be positive about the fact that they are getting to see the other parent.  Make sure they give the other parent a kiss and hug goodbye when you are taking them away.  Hold your tongue, regardless of what comes out of the other parent's mouth, it will serve your children well.

    For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    What is Orientation?

    In Fresno County, prior to mediation, the parties must attend Orientation. Family Court Services conducts this lecture, which is basically a vehicle to explain the mediation process to parents.  It is mandatory; do not miss your scheduled appointment if you are given one.  Both parents must attend, however you will not necessarily be present at the same appointment.

    For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

    What is a Graduated Visitation Plan?

    A graduated visitation plan is one in which a visiting parent's time with the children increases incrementally over time.  This most often occurs in two situations: one, when a parent hasn't either seen the children in a long time, or hasn't had a relationship with them; and two, when a child is an infant.  These plans most often will not be very satisfactory to the visiting parent, but are actually put in place for the children's well-being.  I would strongly suggest you make each and every one of the visits, because missed visitations could delay the possibility to increase your time in the future.

    On a positive note, there are certainly circumstances, especially with infants, where such a plan can assist a parent in working toward a much better custodial schedule in future.

    For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.