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.

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.