Last week I started a 3-part series on incorporating strategy in Family Court appearances. The goal is to show you how having a solid game plan enables you to position your case advantageously. Last week I focused on the first court appearance in custody or divorce, the Initial Conference. This week’s focus is on using the Family Court appearance that follows the Initial Conference, the Family Court Status Conference as part of creating your strategy.

What the Family Court Appearance Status Conference Is

A status conference, in divorce or custody, gives the parties the chance to update the court on what has occurred since additional documents have been filed, to follow up on how temporary orders are working, or to check-in whether certain conditions have been met. The court will want to know how things have been going with respect to visitation to see if things can be resolved without a trial. If at the last court appearance either of the parties was self-represented, the court will want to know if that party(ies) hired a lawyer.

If the judge ordered certain procedural things, like a drug/alcohol screening, a mental health evaluation, or a home investigation, it would follow up with whether those things have been done. Also, if a GAL has been appointed, then the court will want to know the status.

The Goal of the Family Court Status Conference

Family Court, like most other courts, has an interest in saving time and resources. This means that the judge will always aim to get the parties to settle their case.  Family Court appearance Status Conference in custody or divorce is slightly different than the Initial Conference. The court’s hope is that by employing the tactics or measures mentioned above, they will flush out the perceived issues from the real ones. A custodial parent who insists that the noncustodial parent is incapable of taking care of their child for more than a few hours may realize that that’s not a real concern. The court will examine resolution tactics outside of a trial, like mediation. If the court decides on an alternative dispute resolution, it will set dates for the parties to adhere to.

A Discovery plan might also be discussed at a status conference. This usually entails setting rules & restrictions on Discovery as well as a timeline for the exchange of Discovery.

The last major thing to be addressed in a status conference is overall scheduling. In addition to setting dates for mediation and Discovery, the court will also set a deadline for any motions or amendments to petitions. In addition, the court might establish a pretrial conference date and a trial date.

The process for the status conference might differ when both parties and one party is self-represented. The court will try to encourage pro se litigants to get an attorney at this stage of the case with the thinking that they’d be more inclined to settle.

Using this Family Court Status Conference Strategically

This is the time to use what you have gathered outside of the courtroom, because of the court’s directions, to your advantage. In other words, the orders the court issued, the procedures the judge directed, etc. all offer you vantage points that didn’t exist before. You might have had suspicions about some issues that question the other party’s “fitness” as a parent. Or questions about the safety conditions of the other party’s home. Or speculation about the mental or physical health of the other parent. Either way, the status conference is the ideal time to gauge the court’s position on these specific issues. If, for instance, you mentioned your concern about drug abuse and the judge ordered drug screenings, then this shows that the judge takes this issue seriously. How many times have you raised concerns in court that were dismissed by the judge, often I bet? But if the judge thinks the issue, you raise has some semblance of merit, they will respond accordingly.

The other strategic way to use the Status Conference is by incorporating the information you acquired to help you decide if you should settle or proceed to trial. At this stage of your case, there have been several discussions about settling at least a portion of your case. However, having the results of tests or investigations only helps you to make a much more informed decision when it comes to negotiations.

And last, if you are pro se (self-represented) you can learn a lot about the court process, the laws, and the local procedures at the status conference. You should always be on full alert, listening, watching, and taking mental notes.

In Conclusion

Every stage of your case offers some advantage as it progresses along. You might see going to court as a war zone, triggering all sorts of emotion, while I see it as an opportunity. Any time you are in an environment where you can learn the opposing party’s objective, you should see it as a potential advantage.

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.

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.
Divorce Negotiations
Divorce Settlement

 

In divorce there is often a lot of pressure to settle cases instead of proceeding to trial. Judges, lawyers and even parties persist in attempting to get cases resolved in divorce negotiations.  Approximately 5-10%, of divorce cases make it to trial. (The proportion of custody cases is higher). The remainder of the cases are settled amongt the parties, attorneys, through mediation or at settlement conference with thr judge’s influence.


Parent Education in Divorce or Custody Matters


Divorce Negotiations 101

1. Analyze your position. This means understanding that your.

Best source of power is your ability and willingness to walk away and take another deal.

2. Know the process.

Try to carefully negotiate how you will negotiate in advance. Discussing these issues will help keep the focus on the important issues.

3. Listen actively.

Once you start discussing substantive jssues, resist the urge to prepare in your head the next thing you’re going to say next while your counterpart is talking. Instead, listen carefully to her arguments, then paraphrase what you believe she said to check your understanding. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, emotions and thoughts.

4. Prepare your questions in advance.

You can gain more by asking lots of apprpropritate question. Try to avoid asking “yes or no” questions and leading questions. Instead, craft neutral questions that encourage detailed responses.

5. Be mindful of valuable tradeoffs.

Try to identify issues that your opposing party cares deeply about but that you value less. Then propose making a concession on that issue in exchange for a concession on the issue you value highly.

6. Stay away from anchoring bias.

Tons of research shows that the first things mentioned in a negotiation, has a powerful influence on the negotiation that follows. You can avoid being the victim of the anchoring bias by making the first offer and trying to anchor talks in your preferred direction. If the other side does anchor first, keep your desires at the back of your mind.

There are other valuable tips that help making negotiating settlement more effective. These are just a few that will make sure you are not cheated out of what is fair and equitable.

Waiving vs Settling

In divorce negotiations one key thing to keep in mind is to not give up more than you need to. In other words, it is important to maintain as much balance in what you forego and what you persist on.  There is a difference in surrender and submission in negotiations, the main one being you feel in the end.

In negotiations, surrender is when one gives a concession without receiving a corresponding benefit . Negotiation should be a two-way street, both sides giving up something while receiving something at the same time. When one surrenders they usually give up their power or authority to someone else. Oftentimes this power they give up is not voluntarily, but by some form of force.. Because of this giving up,, surrender can leave you feeling defeated, cheated and/or devalued. Even when you think you’re doing the “right” thing by avoiding worthwhile negotiations, giving in without a fight can render negative results.

Submission, on the other hand, is not about giving up power, authority or control. Submission is making an informed decision to give in. In negotiations when a party submits, it is with a knowing and understanding of all involved. The stakes, the benefits, the process etc. are all taken into consideration when one submits. The submitting party usually feels much more optimistic than one who surrenders because of the knowledge and awareness.

In conclusion

You should choose wisely in all divorce settlement negotiations. No one can make the decision for you but it can certainly help to have some skilled players to help you in the process.  If you follow the tips for negotiating you are more likely to gain valuable insight on what’s most important for you.

If you would like coaching through your divorce settlement please feel free to schedule a FREE consultation today.