Once a divorce or custody case starts in Family Court there is usually a process in court. Unless the parties agree and filing the papers is just a formality, every case is set to proceed down the same path. The objective of that path is to facilitate the process by identifying issues, resolving issues, and getting a final determination. Each stage of the case has a specific goal and serves an exact purpose. To litigants, this process can seem confusing, unnecessary, and at times, prejudicial. But the process can be used to your advantage as a litigant if you would keep several things in mind. Strategy entails gathering information whenever and however you can, the court appearances are ideal in that sense.

 

The Initial Appearance

The Initial Conference itself is usually a brief meeting. Although all parties are required to appear, the way you appear is up to the court (via phone, video, or in-person.)

A final determination of anything asked for in the petition or motion is unlikely unless the parties agree to it. However, there are instances where temporary orders are issued depending on the parties’ requests, the immediate need, etc.

The Initial Conference is your first opportunity to gauge what the “real” issues of the case are. When crafting your strategic game plan, one of the principal elements is that you gain an understanding of where the opposing party stands. What this means, is that you need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. You might think you know what they are, but you will get confirmation at the initial conference. The judge will want to know what the issues are and will more than likely, give some hints as to which issues are “real” issues.

In addition, the Initial Conference is your chance to familiarize yourself with the court process, the key players, and the judge’s demeanor. These are all key elements to focus on when creating your game plan too. Your case is not just about the parties, the law, and/or the lawyers. There is an entire process that and that entire process has a significant impact on the outcome of your case.

And last, you are giving the court to make its impression of you. You get to determine that. So many people are intimidated by the court process when you get to dictate how it goes. You must learn to be calm, focused, and prepared as you only get one chance to make a first impression.

 

How to Prepare for the Initial Conference

Preparing for the Initial Conference efficiently is important. However, being intentional in how you prepare is critical to the strategy for your case. In other words, plot every step or tactic you intend to use at the actual conference. Review the opposing party’s petition or motion to look for key things to focus on. You want to focus on these specific things to watch for credibility in statements, to check for consistency throughout the process, and to make notes for Discovery requests.

Next, you want to do as much research as you can before the actual conference. Research the laws, the procedural rules, the attorneys, and the judge. You might not find exactly what you expect, but you should look to see what’s out there.

And last, you should have a set of questions in your mind. You might get a chance to ask specific questions and that’s fine. But you should pay attention because although your questions might be unasked, you might still get answers to them.

 

After the Initial Conference

Once the conference is over, you should have a much clearer picture of what you need to do next. You should feel confident, determined, and empowered, not defeated. Remember, this is your opportunity to determine the direction you want your case to go in. Not let the antics of the opposing party distract or discourage you.

You should be able to fill in some key parts of your game plan.

 

In Conclusion

Too many litigants overlook the opportunities to take control of their case presented in the Initial Conference. They allow their emotions to take over and lose sight as a result. Every interaction, encounter, etc. is an opportunity to gain leverage. Take advantage of it.

 

My new Pro Se Family Court Membership Program is the perfect solution to your custody or divorce situation.  Having a solid game plan that focuses on using strategy can make or break your case.  Interested in the details? Check here.

In the past decade or so the internet has exploded with free information and resources. The legal field is no exception, particularly the world of family law, i.e., divorce, custody, etc. It is a blessing and a curse, to have so much free family law resources being at the public’s disposal. One of the big problems with the endless amount of information is that way too many people think they are now qualified to make all legal decisions.

Where is this Free Information & Resources?

There are a number of ways that free stuff is being offered to the public. Although there are still nonprofit organizations, law school clinics, law firms, etc. that offer pro bono services. Most of the freebies come from online sources like publications, forums, blogs, etc. Websites like www.justia.com, and similar, make it their primary focus to give out free information.

When to Use the Free Resources

Just because something is free to you does not mean it is good for you. They say the best things in life are free. And that may be the case, but at the same time, they say “it might be too good to be true.” Either way, you need to learn to use discernment when deciding if you should indulge. In family law, the best advice is not always paid advice, but free advice can be disastrous. Things you should keep in mind are the complexity of your divorce or custody, the type of free help (advice, information, or representation), whether the other side has an attorney, and so on.  If your case involves an extreme case of parental alienation, for example, then you might not want to take advantage of a lawyer offering free representation if they have no experience in these types of high conflict cases. Also, if your divorce has a question of whether separate property can be considered marital property because of “commingling,” again you might not want to go to court armed with free advice you got online on the topic.

What are the risks of Using the Free Family Law Resources?

Using the wrong lawyer is risky, relying on bad advice is just as risky.  Not that paid is synonymous with quality, but there are times when free is synonymous with subpar quality.  Family Court is a very volatile arena so it is important to be vigilant about everything.

One thing I see litigants doing way, way too often is relying on free advice from forums, social media, etc. I get it, they get desperate considering the stakes are extremely high.  However, choosing this route because the advice is free has wreaked havoc for way too many.

Free consultations are the much safer options, although that route can have its own issues. As someone recently mentioned, attorneys do not always give their best or most effective advice for free.  No, on the contrary, they give just enough to instill fear in people to induce them to hire them.

And then there is the sites that offer free information on everything from specific caselaw to the step-by-step process on how to “win” a case.  The problem is these is that they are not always accurate.  Some of them just regurgitate misinformation found on another site and so it goes on and on.  This has also led to catastrophic results because laypeople do not know that the information is incorrect.

What are the Alternatives?

There are other options to relying on free family law resources.  Some are good and very helpful, so no need to be apprehensive about using any of them but you have to use your critical thinking skills to help you decide.

There are, however, several options out there.  Now there are services available that are low cost and high quality.  Limited scope services, is something lawyers offer as a way to reach parties that have limited funds.  Some lawyers will make limited court appearances part of the service they offer.  This is good because you get to choose when they go to court.  Also, things like document preparation or document review are considered limited scope (or Unbundled Services, which is what I offer).  Lawyers are not the only ones offering these low-cost options.  For example, there are independent contract paralegals that also help with certain aspects of your case.  And, there are actual document preparers who do just that, their costs are typically a fraction of the costs of a lawyer’s.

Legal coaching (I offer Pro Se & Family Court coaching) is also becoming more acceptable as an alternative to actual legal representation.  Lawyers,  and other people with legal experience, are now acting in an advisory position to help people get the guidance they need.  These are all viable options for family law litigants. Particularly those who do not want to rely on the free resources but are limited in how much they can spend.

In Conclusion

Do what’s best for your case and your budget. My advice is to always choose based on asking yourself the important questions.  There are more options out there now than 10 years ago, even a year ago actually.  You can always use both, paid and unpaid to ease your mind of any related concerns.

To commence any action the Petitioner, or person who is pursuing the action, must have the other party “served” with a copy of the Complaint. This is a requirement in any type of case where the other party is an individual or entity. Having someone served in a divorce or child custody case can be quite a challenge and considers several things. I want to address some of those things here to help facilitate the process in family law much smoother.

 

Why Serve the Opposing Party in Family Law

The US Constitution Due Process clause, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, affords each citizen the right to live their life free and fair if certain measures are in place.  The specific language that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”.  This basically means that “fairness” must be at the center of all government procedures with respect to its citizens.  And the process of serving litigants in an action is one of those procedures that must use fairness and notice.  The parties are deprived of fairness, if they are not put on notice or if they are unduly burdened by being sued in a jurisdiction that has no authority over them.  The procedural rules the states implement regarding service of process address these issues.


Perjury in Family Court


 

How to Serve the Opposing Party in Family Law

Each state has its own procedural laws regarding service.   The basic premise of each of them is to give the parties appropriate and adequate notice of legal action in court or administrative body, to exercise jurisdiction over them. The court, or administrative tribunal, cannot exercise jurisdiction over a person if the person was not properly served.

The steps to serving a party in action include:

 

Planning to Service of Process on the Opposing Party

So, from a strategic standpoint, I am all about strategy in all the services I provide, knowing when to serve the other party takes careful thought. Of course, within the purview of your state’s procedural rules, there are times when you should plot out service.  We know the reasons the legal reasons why a party should be served, but thinking about the practicality of serving them is important.

Opposing parties have a time limit to “answer” the Complaint they were served within a divorce or custody action.  The clock starts from the time they are appropriately served and failure to respond within that time can lead to a default judgment.  (Default judgment limits the ability to claim any defenses, counterclaiming.) So, if you want the case to move faster so that you can get a resolution faster, then ensuring effective service is prudent.

The other party has the right to raise defenses in their Answer or Response to your Complaint.  If you know that the defenses, they plan on raising are time-sensitive then you would want to plan the service of your initial Complaint around that.

If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your personal possessions and how service of process can jeopardize these, then you need to make special arrangements.  Domestic violence officers, advocates, etc. can help you develop a plan to have the other party served while keeping you, your family, and/or your things safe.

 

In conclusion

Serving the opposing party is a must in family law matters and can make a difference in the overall outcome.  You should consider the details of this aspect of the case before you start.

family law
Family Law FAQs

 

As promised, I am working on Part Two of Frequently Asked Questions for family law-related matters. Every single day the family law community is faced with scenarios that look similar but have their own nuanced characteristics.  So, although some questions are asked repeatedly, how and if they apply to a particular set of facts vary greatly.

I encourage my audience, and the family law population at large, to ask question after question in an effort to maintain a basic understanding of what is at risk in their divorce or custody.  It does not matter if you refer to several sources, or even if the responses differ.  It is important to gather as much information from various sources when enmeshed in a divorce or custody matter.

One of the things that I do daily encourage my audience to ask questions.  As a result, what I have noticed is that there is a lot of misinformation being circulated.  In addition, I realized that people tend to have the same concerns regardless of their location, status, or position (in their case).  So, I have decided to dedicate this week’s blog to those common questions, providing some clear answers.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 1. Should we try to resolve all issues ourselves to save time and money in divorce or custody?

 An Uncontested Divorce is one where the parties either have no disagreement or have resolved/settled all issues so there are no disputes. In some instances, a divorce can start out as Contested (where there are disputed issues) and wind up in settlement early enough to be considered Uncontested.  This is different than a divorce that settles via mediation, although some courts will allow mediated divorces to proceed as Uncontested. This saves tons of time and money depending on the issues involved.  With respect to custody, resolving the disputed issues can also get the case over within months as opposed to years.

 

  1. Does joint custody mean that you cannot get child support?

In most states, court-ordered child support is determined by statutory guidelines.  One of the factors is typically included in the guidelines is custody.  In cases where joint physical custody is awarded, child support is apportioned according to the time with each parent. For example, in 50-50 cases, in some states, neither parent pays child support to the other. However, in some states, the financial obligation of each parent is calculated based on their income (and other factors) and then the parent who has the highest obligation may be ordered to pay the other the difference in both of their child support award amounts.


Where Child Support & Custody Intersect


  1. What can I do if I do not know where my ex or soon to be ex is living to notify him/her of the case?

Once you file your initial petition for divorce or custody, it is your responsibility to “serve” the other party with a copy of the petition.  This is how they are put on notice of the pending case.  If you are unable to locate them, you must follow your jurisdiction’s procedures in either locating them or serving them another way. Most states will allow an alternate means for service.  So instead of having the party served at a physical address, for instance, the court may allow the petitioner to place an ad in the local newspaper. The newspaper ad is considered “service by publication” as it puts the other party on notice of the suit.

 

  1. Should I consider mediation or some other alternative to litigation?

 There are alternatives to divorce or custody litigation, that do not entail the burden and overwhelm of trial in court. More than half of all family court cases settle, with only a small fraction making it to trial. Those options are mediation, collaborative divorce or Do it Yourself.  Mediation is the option most often used, in some states it is mandatory. Mediation prices range from $2000 up to $10,000s.  The costs associated with mediation makes it most attractive to many, but so does the quicker turnaround than litigation.  If you want to explore least expensive options to divorce and custody, be sure to seriously consider mediation.

 

  1. Do we need a Parenting Plan for our child(ren) if we already have a schedule that we work with?

Some states have their own form of a parenting plan, parenting agreement, etc. If there is a custody case pending, then the parties will be required to enter into such agreement to make it an effective order. If there is no court case pending, then the parties are free to create one that works for them. The difference in the two, is in the former if either party chooses to change terms of the agreement, the other can seek Contempt. In the latter, neither party is obligated to stick to the plan because there may not be any consequences for them choosing not to.

(Feel free to sign up for our newsletter to get your FREE Parenting Plan template.)

 

Finding & Using Resources

Although there are tons of free resources on the internet, knowing which question to ask can make these resources useless.  When you are enmeshed in a legal battle, particularly in Family Court, it is critical to have the right information.  It is not advisable to trust your friends, family or even strangers to give you the appropriate answers to your legal questions.  Having gone through the process helps, but it does not qualify them to give you legal advice since each case is quite different.

I always recommend getting at least three (3) consultations from qualified attorneys in your jurisdiction so that you have a solid foundation to start your journey.  Most family law attorneys will provide a free consultation so cost should not be a deterrent.

 

In Conclusion

 Always, always, always ask questions and seek answers.  At the same time, use discernment to decide if the source is reliable.  There is an overwhelming amount of information relevant to divorce and custody, so filtering is important as well.

 

If you wish to schedule a consultation to discuss how I can help you, please feel free to do so here.

Family Court
Family Court Frequently Asked Questions

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As many of you know, I am quite active in the online space with my audience.  This is very helpful for me personally and professionally, as it allows me to stay current on the issues like the family court matters that are most important to my community.  On a personal level, I am able to connect with people from all over the world, which is rewarding itself.

 

One of the things that I do daily is encourage my audience to ask questions.  As a result, what I have noticed is that there is a lot of misinformation being circulated.  In addition, I realized that people tend to have the same concerns regardless of their location, status or position (in their case).  So I have decided to dedicate this week’s blog to those common questions, providing some clear answers.


Parent Education in Divorce or Custody Matters

Frequently Asked Questions

 1. Should I file a divorce or custody petition first?

Read my blog on this topic but the short answer is, it depends.  If you are seeking divorce on specific “grounds” like adultery then you should file first.  However, if your circumstances meet the requirements for a “no-fault” divorce, then it may not matter.  In situations where there is property and you are concerned that your ex/soon to be ex will hide it, then you may want to file first.  However, filing first does not guarantee better success, it may just afford you the opportunity to better prepare.

  1. Is there a difference in shared custody vs. joint custody vs. 50/50 custody?

Shared custody can be anything where the child(ren) split their time at both parents home.  However, that split can be anything above or below 50%.  Joint custody usually refers to joint legal but can include physical too. 50/50 custody usually means that the child(ren) spend equal time between both parents homes. I covered this topic at length here.

  1. How should I prepare for filing for divorce?

Preparing for divorce, whether you are filing or waiting to be served, should start as early as possible.  This does not mean that you should rush to give up on your marriage but it certainly means that you should start to take the necessary steps the moment you’re convinced that divorce is impending. Gather documents, i.e. deeds/lease agreements, financial statements, credit card statements, receipts, etc.; contact all providers i.e. medical/health, schools, insurance, etc.; change passwords; inventory possessions; records, etc.

  1. Should I work with an attorney?

Having a lawyer represent you in your divorce or custody case is not an absolute must.  In certain circumstances you should certainly have an attorney represent you, but even in these instances the extent to which they provide representation should be considered.  If there is a dispute over custody, alimony &/or property distribution then having a lawyer on your side can certainly help.  However, be wise about whom you choose to work with and be sure they are familiar with the nuanced issues of your case.

Note: Visit here to read more about alternative options.

  1. Can I use text messages, emails, etc. as evidence in my hearing or trial?

This is a very common question and requires as much attention as possible.  Yes, text messages, emails, etc. can be used in court for evidentiary purposes.  Although each state has their own rules with respect to how these are admitted, they are generally allowed to be used to prove or defend your position in court.

Note:  I did a video on this topic on my Facebook business page.

Finding & Using Resources

Although there are tons of free resources on the internet, knowing which question to ask can make these resources useless.  When you are enmeshed in a legal battle, particularly in Family Court, it is critical to have the right information.  It is not advisable to trust your friends, family or even strangers to give you the appropriate answers to your legal questions.  Having gone through the process helps, but it does not qualify them to give you legal advice since each case is very different.

I always recommend getting at least three (3) consultations from qualified attorneys in your jurisdiction so that you have a solid foundation to start your journey.  Most family law attorneys will provide a free consultation so cost should not be a deterrent.

In Conclusion

 Always, always, always ask questions and seek answers.  At the same time, use discernment to decide if the source is reliable.  There is an overwhelming amount of information relevant to divorce and custody so filtering is important as well.

If you wish to schedule a consultation to discuss how I can help you please feel free to so here.

Child Custody & Abandonment

In child custody & abandonment situations (and child support too) biological parents can have their rights terminated by court. Even though the right to being a parent in the USA is a fundamental one , pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, states have the power to infringe on those rights. Of course Due Process, also afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment, applies making it a requirement that laws & procedures are fair.


Where Child Support & Custody Intersect


What is Child Custody & Abandonment?

Abandonment, with respect to custody, is when a parent voluntarily fails to have any sort of contact with their child and fails to provide financially for the child for a specified period. It is NOT parental alienation, which is willful interference with the non- custodial parent having contact with their child.

Abandonment can only occur when the biological parent is aware of the child being born. So a parent who seeks Abandonment where the other parent is unaware of the child even exists will have to first prove otherwise. In some states, the period of abandonment only starts from the moment the parent is made aware of the child’s existence.

Proving Abandonment

 Proving abandonment is not easy feat, not by a stretch. The courts are not sweet on the idea of depriving parents of such a basic right under most circumstances. The burden is on the parent seeking termination to prove that all the elements are met upon a preponderance of evidence.

Those elements include:

  1. That the non custodial had noticed of the child; and
  2. That they willfully chose to withhold contact; and
  3. They failed to provide any financial support; and
  4. Set period of continuous non-contact & support; and
  5. Termination is in the best interests of the child; and
  6. That a stepparent is ready to adopt the child.

These requirements vary from state to state.

Objections or Defenses to Abandonment                                          

Non-custodial parents may have some valid reasons for being absent or not providing for their child. As I stated above, instances where the custodial parent intentionally interferes with contact is one of them.  There are others, like lack of notice of the petition, having no knowledge of the child having been born or if he can prove that termination would not be in the child’s best interests.

A child born out of wedlock, where the father never acknowledged paternity or where paternity was never established, may also be a defense. Most states require that paternity be established first. If the father’s location is unknown, the court may require that the mother incorporate “due diligence” methods  in locating him.

Also, if there is not a “fit” stepparent ready to adopt the child, then chances are the court will not order the termination.

A Finding of Abandonment 

If all of the elements are met and the court believes that termination is in the best interests of the child, then the biological parent no longer has obligation to support the child.  Emotional, physical and financial support are no longer the responsibility of the terminated parent.  However, there are some exceptions with respect to the child’s rights to that parent’s entitlements, property, estate, etc.  In some states, adopted children may have legal rights to the possessions of their biological parent in the event of that parent’s death.

It is advisable to discuss, in depth, the legal ramifications of termination with all parties involved.

In Conclusion

Child abandonment is a very complicated issue and requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.

If you need assistance with your child custody matter, please feel free to contact me for a FREE 15 min. consultation.

Divorce Settlement Agreement

The divorce settlement agreement constitutes 75% or more of the contested divorce cases. Courts are set up to encourage litigants to settle all issues including property distribution, child custody, child and spousal support. Pretrial conferences, settlement conferences and mediation are all part of the program aimed to settle. Divorce settlement, however, does not always take enforcement into consideration. Enforcing settlements are usually another huge piece of the pie.


Dating During Divorce 


Divorce Settlement Agreement Strategies

From the filing of the first pleading, usually the complaint, the process proceeds on the settlement track. The complaint, ideally, lays out all of the details of the case some of which are not really material. The rules of procedure affords great latitude with respect to making allegations in the complaint. Then the opponent has the opportunity to respond with defenses and/or denials that the court can “strike”. This particular phase sets the stage for settlement when the case gets to initial conference.

From this point on, each meeting is pretty much centered around resolving anyboutstsnifng issues. In fact at times the judge will use persuasion to encourage the parties to settle. The judge will give a hint of suggestion of how he/she will rule should the case go to trial.

Also, the time lapse between conferences is strategically designed to give the parties the opportunity to negotiate settlement.

Pitfalls of Settlement

Although the courts maintains an environment conducive to settling, it’s not always the best way to proceed. Although it’s usually cost beneficial for all involved, it can set either of the party up for failure.

Negotiated settlements have inherent flaws, as much as they have advantages. First off, it’s imprudent to enter into settlement talks if discovery is not complete. The discovery phase is always tricky in divorce cases. One or both parties are often apprehensive about turning over financial, personal and health information to the other. It’s a rare instance where both parties fully disclose every fact, document or authorization related to the issues in divorce.

Second, as I mentioned above, sonetimes judges strongly urge resolution for reasons unrelated to the particular case. This can unduly influence either party to give in to these suggestions regardless of how fair they are.

Third, unavoidable distractions can also affect how successful settlement talks can go. Emotional and mental volatility are often the source of uneasiness

Enforcing Settlement
It’s no secret that coming to an agreement is entirely different than getting both sides to stick it. Especially in family law, people often find reasons to justify deviating from the terms of their settlements. Financial changes, remarriage/new baby, debt obligations etc. to name just a few reasons.

More than half of divorce settlement agreements wind up being hauled into court for enforcement, modification and/or contempt. The agreements do not come with a gatekeeper to monitor it’s execution so at times they are not worth the paper they are written on. Lawyers, mediators, parenting coordinators etc may try to help facilitate the execution of the agreement but they’re efforts are often futile.

Enforcing settlement agreements requires court intervention more often than not. Rarely is there ever an incentive for the violating party to voluntarily comply. So the opposing party must employ the court if they want to the terms of the agreement implemented.

In conclusion

A forced settlement is not better than any settlement at all no matter how much pressure you’re under. You would be cutting of your nose to spite your face. Coming to an agreement is not always a bad thing, it just requires a rational mind and tempered emotions.

If you would like to discuss how my consulting, coaching or Unbundled services can help you on your divorce or custody please schedule a free 15 minute consultation.

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best interests of the child

Each state has some sort of guidelines when it comes to deciding the best interests of the child.  The best interests of the child is the standard courts use to determine custody & visitation.  Even though these standards follow basic principles across all states, the factors used to make this determination varies from state to state.  This explains why the outcome in your case may look significantly different than the outcome in a case very similar to yours, both within the same state and across states.

Best Interests of the Child Standard Defined

Although there is no definitive standard definition of “the best interests of the child” there is a general principle.  That general principle is “…fostering and encouraging the child’s happiness, security, mental health and emotional development.” Currently, every state has specific factors to help its courts make custody determinations. However, how the courts uses and weighs these factors varies from state to state.

Specific Factors: Mandatory vs. Discretionary

The states’ specific factors all center around these principles, they all have a variation and/or an extension of the following:

  1. Emotional ties and relationships between the child and their parents, siblings and family members;
  2. The parents’ capacity to provide a safe home, with adequate food, clothing and medical care;
  3. The mental and physical needs of the child;
  4. The mental and physical health of the parents;
  5. The presence of domestic violence

Some states require that some or all of their specific factors to be considered, leaving little room for discretionary guidelines. Other states, on the other hand, have rules that give them permission to use discretion in applying their specific factors in addition to factors not expressly stated.

Variations of Statutes’ Definition

Most states have “shall” in their statutes, which makes adhering to the specific factors a requirement.  Like Virgina, for example, every one of its ten factors must be considered by the States with statutes that state “shall” with respect to consideration of its specific factors leave the courts with little discretion.  The courts have little wiggle room to consider factors outside of the specified factors, unless the statute says so.

In Virginia, for instance, the courts MUST consider all ten of its factors when making custody determinations. So in other words, every custody case in this state will be scrutinized using every single one of its 10 factors no matter what. This means that a case where parents are making allegations of medical neglect, educational inadequacies, inappropriate living conditions that the courts do NOT have to consider these allegations when applying the factors because these are not explicitly listed in the state’s statute.


Code of Virginia – Best Interests of the Child


However, in Connecticut, it’s  Gen. Stat. Section 46b-56( c) lists 15 factors. It reads in part “…the court shall consider the best interests of the child, and in doing so, may consider but shall not be limited to, one or more of the following factors.”  Some of the factors are the temperament and developmental needs of the child; the wishes of the child’s parents; the willingness and ability of the parents to coparent, amongst several others.  So even though it lists specific factors, the courts are not obligated to make its determination based on these factors. Connecticut courts can use factors that are NOT even on the list at all.

Impact on the Judge’s Determination

The weight of the factors, the use of the factors and the discretion with respect to both renders different outcomes for every case.  The states where courts have more discretion in considering its factors are more likely the ones with inconsistent decisions.  This can be an advantage to some, and a nightmare for others.

If you know for certain what factors the judge must consider, it is easier for you to prepare your case.  However, where the judge is not mandated to follow any specific guidelines, it is much harder to pre-determine what to focus your attention on.

In Conclusion

It is imperative to conduct thorough research before filing for custody.  If you can get a list of factors with an understanding of how they apply, then you are sure to put yourself in a much more advantageous position.

Feel free to contact me to discuss options for your divorce or custody case.

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guardian ad litem

 

Contested custody cases requires the use of “unconventional” methods with respect to gathering facts to help it made rulings.  The parties to the custody action can appear pro se, where they speak for themselves, or by their lawyers.  But children’s interests must also be given considerable consideration with respect to custody and visitation.  This is routinely accomplished by the use of a guardian ad litem as their voice or by them speaking directly with the judge.


Collaborating with Your Family Law Attorney


GAL as Child’s Voice

GALs are typically used as the voice of the child in contested child custody and visitation cases.  The guardian ad litem is supposed to be an impartial, objective person who represents the child in high conflict custody cases. (The ABA standards for GALS Statutory Provisions For Guardians ad Litem )They are responsible for advocating the “best interests of the child” standards for their client.  They are often appointed by the court, either at its discretion or either party’s request, to report to the court the best interests of the child. They are lawyers, social workers or any other qualified professional appointed by the court.  They use several measures to gather evidence, explore allegations and to report to the court based on these.

Judge In-Camera Interviews 

The alternative to a GAL reporting to the court, the court can speak directly with the child(ren) in custody cases.  In some instances, the judge can conduct an “in camera” interview where he/she speak directly to the child in closed court (or in judges’ chambers) with a recorder or court reporter present.  The thing with in camera though, is that judges are reluctant to conduct these. They’re reasoning is that children are fragile and should be shielded from the dissension involved with custody battles. In fact, there are very few instances where a judge would voluntarily subject a child to the emotional and mental turmoil of litigation.

Guardian Ad Litem vs. Judge In Camera

Each state has a age limit for when a child can express their preference with respect to which parent they would like to live with.  Children under 12, generally, do not have a “say” and thus the GAL is most often the sole source used to help the court to make it’s determination. Children 12 or older, on the other hand, may have the option to speak for themselves.  Even though older children can speak for themselves,  the extent to which they are permitted varies. The amount of weight given to the child’s preference, varies from state to state and from case to case.

Advantages to Either Option

In some instances, it’s beneficial to opt for a GAL, as opposed to an in-camera, no matter the age of the child. For example, in custody cases where there are allegations of alienation or manipulation then a GAL may be best suited to speak on the child’s behalf.  The GAL will take the time to meet with the child; speak with each parent and/or their attorney  (if they deem it necessary); talk to teachers, medical and mental health professionals who have worked with the child; review necessary reports, notes, etc. and whatever else they need to devise an adequate report for the court.

However, in cases where in cameras are permitted then this is the better option in other cases.  In cameras, however time constraints is a big issue.  In addition, the attorneys’ input is limited as they are usually only allowed to submit a list of questions to ask the child in lieu of their actual presence.  The GAL is the only other person permitted in the in-camera, as their job is to ensure that their client’s rights are not violated by the court. The major advantage of in camera interviews though is that the whole proceeding is recorded and the parties have access to the minutes of the recording.  This can a major strategic advantage for either side when preparing for trial.  GALs do not have to record any such interviews with their clients and therefore, are not required to make any such recordings available.

In conclusion

The point is that in some cases the parties don’t have a choice, they must rely on the input of a GAL instead of an in camera.  And although they might have the option to avoid both, they should understand the limitations and benefits.

Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorce is a viable option for many in New Jersey.  In some states, although many have changed their laws, proceeding to divorce on the uncontested track requires specific steps.  New Jersey is a true “no fault” state thus making Uncontested Divorce much easier to accomplish.  No-fault means that the parties do not need to allege a “reason” for the divorce. (Read here to understand how “grounds” matter in divorce https://thedivorcesolutionist.com/should-you-file-first-in-your-custody-or-divorce-matter/


Should You File First in your Custody or Divorce Matter?


An Uncontested Divorce is where the parties agree on all of the terms of the divorce.  This means they agree to the “grounds” (which isn’t usually an issue in “no-fault” states like NJ), child custody/visitation, child or spousal support, property division & debt allocation.  Court intervention is not needed since the parties resolved all issues on their own.  The parties merely complete the appropriate forms, sign them, pay all associated fees and file with the court.  (Some courts require a hearing as part of procedure.) Even if the divorce started off with disputed issues, at any time the parties can consent and proceed on the Uncontested Track.

The fees for an Uncontested Divorce are usually a fraction of those for a Contested Divorce.   There are 4 options to get an Uncontested Divorce in New Jersey. They are as follows:

  1. A non-profit can handle it for you from inception to final order.  Although this method is usually free, each non-profit has its own guidelines and criteria applicants must meet to qualify. In addition, many have waitlists that go as long as a year before they can help.  (www.lsnj.org is the most popular)
  2. A document preparer completes the forms only, no further assistance is provided by them. The fees for this service usually range between $399 and $799.
  3. A lawyer can  handle the matter from inception to final order. Lawyers fees typically start at $1500 and go up to $3500, depending on other issues associated with the Uncontested Divorce.
  4. You can do it yourself. This method can be the most cost efficient but the most nerve wracking too if the litigants are not familiar with legalese and/or the court process. NJ actually has a self help page to make it more accessible https://njcourts.gov/selfhelp/selfhelp_divorce.html.

The Uncontested Divorce-NJ Workshop addresses all of the disadvantages of the 4 options mentioned above.  This workshop will help you by going through each step of the process with the assistance of an experienced family law professional.  At the same time, you will have the opportunity to ask questions about things you do not understand. So you won’t be overcome with frustration by doing it all alone.  And last, you will save yourself time and hundreds of dollars by signing up for the workshop.  (You are responsible for filing fees, etc.).  The cost of this workshop is only $99. 

There is no other lawyer, organization, business, etc. offering such a service.  This is the best way to gain your freedom, build confidence and have a piece of mind.

Sign up today as seats are limited.

Feb. 1, 2021 at 6PM EST on Facebook Live