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.

I recently noticed that many Family Court litigants are clueless about filing and using the correct documents in their custody cases. There are different documents for diverse types of cases of course. But there are times when it is not just the type of case that matters, it is its purpose. There are petitions, complaints, responses, objections, oppositions, motions, show causes, cross-motions, cross-petition, and counterclaims. So, let’s discuss all family court documents in custody:

Type of Family Court Case

In Family Court, custody cases can go on forever.  In fact, they typically do.  If you are in court on custody once, you can almost bet on being back over the course of your child’s life until the age of majority.  So, there is a difference, for example, in an initial case for Custody or Visitation and a Modification or Contempt case. The difference affects how the case will proceed, which rules apply and how they apply.  So, an initial custody case might consist of the initial Complaint and maybe a Cross-Complaint as far as documents (pleadings). This is so because the parties are only trying to establish some sort of guidelines or parameters to co-parent.  It is not uncommon that the parties are unaware of all the issues that may become an issue later.


Strategic Plan in Divorce or Custody


Purpose of Family Court Documents in Custody

The other issue is what your objective is in the case.  If you are seeking to shed light on the lies, deception, and false statements, then you might need to file a Response or Opposition. If your intentions are to present your own version of the circumstances, then you might want to file a Cross-Petition or Cross-Motion.  But even further, if you have your own separate demands, then you should most certainly file a Cross-Motion or Cross-Petition in the custody or visitation case.

The document you file will still depend on the type of case, but your purpose for the document is important.

Procedure for Documents

Every single state has its own set of procedural rules when it comes to drafting, filing, and serving custody or visitation documents. They also have specific time frames and deadlines within which specific documents need to be filed. This is extremely important to know because it can affect how you choose to proceed. If you realize at some point in your case, that you should file a Cross-Petition what are your options?

Well, that depends on the point in which you realized it. Can you file a Cross-Petition at the time the case is scheduled for a hearing? If not, what can you do instead? These are all particularly important to know as you navigate your way through your case. You might not be able to, but you can ask for the court’s permission to file an Objection or Opposition. Or maybe you can get the court’s permission to extend the time for hearing/trial until you are able to have your Cross-Petition added to the court’s docket. The way you proceed is dictated by your court’s procedural rules as well as its administrative process.

How it All Comes into Play?

For those of you who do not know, my focus is always on the strategic aspect of custody cases.  My unique approach takes a bird’s eye view of each case and produces a precise plan to help litigants reach their goals.  This means that each of the elements I discussed above plays an important role.  Timing, wording, positioning, etc. all these interplay in how a case should be presented for court success.  So sometimes you might have missed a document filing deadline, but might be able to get on your side of the story another way. Therefore, it is critical to have these concepts in mind the moment you see yourself headed down this path.

In Conclusion

It is extremely important that you are aware of your local court procedures, how to navigate your way around the court (and the website), and that you learn the different forms and their use.  This knowledge can impact the overall outcome of your custody case.

In the world of family law, there’s a widely known term, Disneyland Dad, or Mom, in custody disputes. This term refers to the noncustodial parent who makes their time with the child more fun for the child. The term implies that their motives for doing this are to persuade or influence the child towards them over the other. This usually creates problems for the custodial parent who must “compete” with them.

 

What Qualifies as Disneyland Dad or Mom?

 A noncustodial parent does things to gain their child’s affection in several ways.  These include buying them expensive gifts, letting them have longer curfews, allowing them to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Basically, the noncustodial parent will purposely give the child things the other parent afford or allow them to do things the other parent does not. Their intention is clearly to be seen as the more likable or “cool” parent. Oftentimes the Disneyland parent goes out of their way to treat their child as their friend or peer instead of a child. They also employ other friends, significant others and/or family members to help them overextend their level of kindness.


Strategic Plan in Divorce or Custody


The parent who does this is usually motivated by their own selfishness. Because if they were concerned about their children, they would respect the boundaries imposed by the custodial parent.

Some Disneyland parents merely use these tactics as a means to be vindicated for being absent or abusive during the child’s life.  On the other hand, the narcissistic noncustodial parents’ motives are different. Their motives are usually control, manipulation, and vindictiveness. In these instances, there is no sound basis or justification for the behaviors.

How Does being a Disneyland Dad or Mom Impact the Best Interests Factors?

The best interests factors for each state varies. Some states put more emphasis on certain issues than others. Not to mention, some states put to give more consideration to some factors than others. The best interests factors require the court to look at them in order to decide what’s for the child’s wellbeing. The child’s mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being are the underlying concerns in every case.

How the Disneyland parent’s behaviors get factored into custody determinations depends on these two things: the actual factors and how their behavior directly tie in and how their behavior affects the overall custody disputes.   The former is a direct application of the court’s standards, while the latter is indirect.  Both perspectives certainly have an impact on child custody cases, but for different reasons.

Applying the Best Interests Factors to Disneyland Dad or Mom

First, let’s look at Disneyland Dad or Mom and the best interests factors overall. The issues that come into play are the parent’s refusal, or inability, to set and maintain boundaries. This can certainly raise concerns with respect to the child’s mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. Mental well-being emphasizes the parent’s responsibility to ensure that the child develops into adulthood in a way that is adaptable. In other words, preparing them for growing up with the tools they need to maintain relationships, employment, Etc. Although parents want to ensure their children are happy, they should balance this intention with maintaining safe boundaries.

A. Factors Directly Related to Coparenting-

Next, the Disneyland Dad or Mom’s own mental or emotional health can be called into question under the best interests application.  The parent’s health, particularly their mental health, is often made obvious by their actions.  Their decision to manipulate their children in this way certainly calls attention to their mental health.

Another factor that might be triggered by the behaviors of the Disneyland Dad or Mom is the one that examines each parent’s ability to maintain or facilitate a meaningful relationship with the other. When one parent is intentionally ignoring or violating boundaries set by the other, it is obvious that they don’t care about maintaining a healthy parenting or co-parenting relationship.

And last, financial stability or standard of home environment also come into play with Disneyland Dad or Mom situations.   This is a huge concern when there is an imbalance in financial resources between the two parent’s homes.  The Disneyland parent usually has more resources and is able to shower the kids with gifts.  Alternatively, the Disneyland parent might have more free time, making them more able to do “fun” things with the children.  Either way, having more of what the child wants makes it hard to challenge this factor when the other parent doesn’t have the luxury.

B. Factors Directly to the Parent-Child Relationship

Another factor that can impact the Disneyland Dad or Mom’s choice to act this way is the child’s preference to live with either parent.  Clearly, their intention is to persuade or influence the child, and most times they are successful. Successful enough to influence the child’s choice about who they prefer to live with.  Of course, younger children don’t really have much say, but this certainly applies to the older ones.

And last, the relationship between the parent and child is most definitely a factor too.  The courts inherently look at the bond between each parent and their child(ren) when deciding custody.   And when the bond is strained or strengthened by deliberate acts of the other, there is cause for concern.

How to Defend against a Disneyland Dad or Mom in Custody Disputes?

There are several things you can do to defend against parents who use their resources to intentionally influence your child.  And although there are practical, moral, and emotional implications, you should try to focus on what you can control.  You can’t control the other parent’s behavior, nor can the courts actually, but you have some control over your children.

You need to work at ensuring your children receive the time and attention you have.  This means that you are not competing with the other parent.  You should use the time you have with your children in a meaningful way.  Instead of focusing on the things the other parent did or bought, for example, you redirect your children to what you are doing with them.

In court, you can focus on the specific best-interests factors that are in your favor.  You are a good parent merely because you are fighting to be a parent.  You might not be the “best” parent, but you most certainly are just as “fit” as the other parent. Use those “fit” factors to your advantage.  No one scores high on all factors, if they did they would not be in custody disputes.

In Conclusion

Don’t accept defeat in the custody disputes by being up against a Disneyland Dad or Mom.   You can work with what you have and still be acknowledged for being a “good” parent.

Strategic plan family court
Strategic Plan Divorce Custody

Creating a strategic plan in business is a must if that business wants to increase its chances of success. Having one usually indicates that the business is serious about mapping its short and long-term goals. It also means that they are dedicated to putting measures in place to reach them. Having a detailed plan based on your values and beliefs is a win-win. So why wouldn’t you create one for any aspect of your personal life? Particularly where the goals are extremely important and significant, why not plot out a plan. A strategic plan in divorce or custody is brilliant.

Your divorce or custody is more than likely consuming a huge part of your life… right? I mean it does not matter who you are, where you are located, how much money you have it’s daunting.  The Family Court experience is full of surprises. And one of the best ways to prepare for the unexpected is to prepare for the unexpected. A strategic plan is certain to do just that.


Imbalance of Power Custody Divorce


What is a Strategic Plan?

A strategic plan in divorce or custody is a roadmap that sets specific goals for your case. It considers all the facts & information relevant to your issues, no matter the source. It then requires you to use this data to focus on your personal values and beliefs to create a vision. This vision is made up of your long and short-term goals for yourself and your family. Then, creating a specific layout to achieve those goals requires a deeper understanding of the information gathered. The layout incorporates your strengths and weaknesses, measured against threats and opportunities.  This results in you producing a course of action to reach those goals. It is a roadmap, diagram, course of action, game plan to achieve success in Family Court.

Why Should You Have a Strategic Plan for your Family Court case?

As I mentioned, having a strategic plan increases your chances of success no matter what area of your life. And the reality is that you want to get the results you want no matter which side you are on in divorce or custody. Having a plan helps you to map out your goals for your family.

These goals include-

All these goals might have a place in your short and long-term goals. It is for you to decide which ones do and how to prioritize them. Because how you approach them depends on how important they are to you. And the more aligned the two are increased chances of success.

How Do You Create Strategic Plan?

The first step is to take an honest look at your current situation. This is difficult to do, but it needs to be done with as much objectivity as possible. You must dig deep and look wide to assess your financial, personal, emotional/mental, and legal circumstances. It is best that you take your time with this part because any oversights can ruin your efforts overall. Also, it is important to ask trusted loved ones for their insight as well to ensure that the assessment is accurate.

Next, you will spend time creating a detailed list of your opposing party’s position.  Look at the things they are requesting, their current situation, their past behaviors, etc. You do not have to be 100% accurate, but the more you are able to the better.

Then you will need to look at both lists to help you to create your vision. Your vision should consist of what your future family life looks like. For example, what does co-parent look like, what is your future financial situation, and so on.

From there, you will need to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This means classifying those things you produced in the first step, as strengths or weaknesses. They can be physical, legal, practical, financial or anything that has a direct impact on your divorce or custody.

After that, you will need to go beyond your lists to gather information directly related to the legal aspects of your family law case.  This includes your opponent’s position, the court venue/jurisdiction, policy issues, the laws, the judges, basically anything that is outside of your control.

Once you have gone through all these steps, you are able to create a plan by applying these to your overall goals.

When Should You Create a Strategic Plan?

Right now! Contact me to discuss how I can help.

Results of Having a Strategic Plan

You are better able to circumvent the destructive practices of the Family Court. Not only are you more prepared to deal with the Family Court’s bias and unfair treatment, but you also build confidence as a result.

Choosing to be Pro Se, as opposed to having an attorney, can be strategic.  Although most jurists discourage Family Court parties represent themselves, there are times when it’s advantageous.

Being a victim of your opponent is also off the table. Having a plan in place helps to become empowered. The exercise of creating the strategy is itself is empowering.

Having a better understanding of the Family Court process is also an advantage of having a strategic plan. Every step of the process covers every facet of the Family Court journey, and that is by design. You will most certainly be able to highlight the issues that are most important to the judge, which is extremely important.

In Conclusion

So, if you want to increase your chances of “winning” this is an excellent start. There is endless data on the importance of having a strategic plan in place. Even though the data available relates to business strategic plans, there is no sound reason it would not apply in divorce or custody.

If you would like to see how I can help you create the best Strategic Plan for your specific case, please visit here.

Related Tag: Child Custody

It is not unheard of that parties in divorce or custody have unequal playing fields.  In several different family dynamics, one party can assert the decision-making authority or power to dominate the relationship.  Whether it be financial, physical, mental, or emotional, when one party has more to lose than the other, chances are there is an imbalance of power. The imbalance of power in custody or divorce can create a nightmare for all involved.  Most high-conflict cases stem from some unequal distribution of power or authority within the family.  Not to mention, contempt cases tend to happen more in instances.  Violating custody orders that came out of these dynamics is bound to happen.


Family Court Legal Terms, Commonly Used & Misused, Explained-PT I

Imbalance of Power Defined

During divorce or custody, an imbalance of power can exist in a few ways.  It may be something that pre-exists or that occurred as a result of turmoil associated with their Family Court Custody case.  Let’s take a look at situations where an imbalance was a part of the family unit before divorce or custody.   Many families have situations where one person is the breadwinner while the other stays home to raise the children.  And even though the parties’ contribution to the marriage is considered “equal” in a practical sense they may not be.

The breadwinner usually has the resources to hire a lawyer, move out of the home, give the children things out of the question for the other parent, and so on.  Having the means to do these sorts of things certainly puts that party in a more advantageous position concerning their case. This is an example of an imbalance of power in the financial sense.   But the imbalance can be mental, emotional, and physical too.  Anytime one party has substantially more to lose than the other, unfairly especially, there is an imbalance of power.

In relationships where there is physical, mental, and/or emotional abuse, an imbalance of power most certainly exists.  The victim of abuse almost always has no authority in the decision-making process or no power to exert authority in the relationship.

Sometimes an imbalance is created merely by using the children as pawns.  In parental alienation cases, for instance, one parent maliciously brainwashes or programs their child, resulting in hatred against the other.  This can lead to outcomes that are not based on the merits but on the power or authority one has over the other.

Why is Imbalance of Power Detrimental

Where there is an imbalance in power in divorce or custody, someone will undoubtedly lose.  The loss can be short-term or long-term, financial, mental, legal, or even physical.  The acquiescent party, for example, can be strong-armed into agreeing to joint custody knowing that that’s not what’s best for their child.  And in this case, the child “loses” too.  Unequal distribution of power can make negotiation difficult too.  In instances where the issues are pretty straightforward and ripe for settlement, an imbalance of power can unfairly shift things in the empowered party’s favor.

This happens often in Family Court and is major reason cases end catastrophically.  Principles like “the best interests of the child” don’t hold up because the power imbalance prevails instead.  This is disastrous because that empowered parent can shift his or her need to control to the child.

Not all situations are doomed in which there is an unequal distribution of power or authority.

Can You Level the Playing Field

In some cases, there is no leveling the playing field.  However, there are times when the parties (or others involved) can shift the focus.   In mediation, for example, the mediator is skilled at using tactics to shift the focus to the acquiescent party’s favor.  Mediators are trained to use specific methods to help bring important topics to the forefront.  These tactics don’t necessarily take the power away from the empowered party, but they certainly help to keep it at bay.

Another method is to become informed.  Knowledge is extremely important in shifting the focus or redirecting the control of the empowered party.  Arming oneself with all the information and relevant resources can help the acquiescent discover strengths they were unaware of.

A support system is crucial to shifting the imbalance as well.  Oftentimes, the party with the least authority or power builds confidence and strength just from having a supportive team around them.

In conclusion

Be mindful of your particular circumstances.  It is extremely important to be very honest with your intentions, your goals, and your present situation.  This will help you to prepare for what’s to come without losing out on what matters most.

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.

This strategic action plan workbook is 27 pages of extremely useful tips & resources; exercises; worksheets and MUCH MORE!!!

About the Family Court Strategic Action Plan Workbook:

Family Court parties are usually the most overwhelmed, disappointed and victimized of any other court venue.  For several reasons, people that are embroiled in a Family Court, either divorce or custody, case often feel like they are at their wits end fighting for their families.  One of the main reasons parties feel disappointed and discouraged is because of the lawyers failure to provide adequate representation.  Another major reason, is because the Family Court system is destructive to families.  The laws are often overlooked, the procedures are applies arbitrarily and the judges are extremely biased.  So what are the parties to do when they are forced to litigate their case in court in spite of all of these flaws?  What they should do is not give up….NEVER give up! They owe it to their children to speak up for them, to ensure that their well-being is not overlooked and to protect their future.


Your Support System, “Village”: Key Part of Your Strategic Plan


There is a saying “if you can’t beat them then join them”.  This is definitely applicable and justified in Family Court.  It’s a system that can’t “beat” because they have the power and the authority.  So you can “join” them or align with the court by learning to “play” by their rules. How do you do that? I’m glad you ask.  You need to use something that IS on your side….STRATEGY!  The judge and court have the law and power and authority……………..but you have STRATEGY!

What is STRATEGY and how does it even apply to your Family Court case?  It is the practical and tactical steps you take to achieve your specific goal.  Strategy can apply to any aspect of life where you set goals, aspirations, missions, etc. It’s a matter of  deciding that you will do whatever it takes to achieve success by reaching those goals.  You do have goals in mind with respect to your Family Court case, right?  I mean you are not blindly going through the process without a desired outcome are you?  Well, even if you have been up til this point, it’s time to change that.  You need to approach this aspect of your life as if your life depended on it, because in all reality this is YOUR LIFE!

Strategy is where the practical and the legal overlap.   There is a practical path to get through the process in addition to the legal one.  The problem is that lawyers are only concerned with the legal path.  And the practical side is often overlooked or misguided because litigants need guidance here too.  So, what typically happens in this instance. The parties wind up being forced to settle or getting slammed at trial and feeling victimized by the whole ordeal.  No one wins in Family Court, but not everybody has to lose it all either. But had a solid strategy been developed, followed and revised when necessary, the outcome would have been different.

That’s what this Workbook helps the user to develop, strategy.  It provides information and exercises that will help the user develop a strategy using a step by step process.

It Includes:

This is ideal for ANYONE going through Family Court, divorce or custody case, that would like to approach the process from a proactive stance.   Whether self-represented or represented by an attorney, this Workbook will supplement anything you’ve been using to help you navigate your case.  As a first step or supplement to what you’re already doing, this is a very valuable resource for any Family Court litigant.

If you are interested in other services to supplement the workbook, i.e. consulting/coaching, Group/Membership programs or other Unbundled Services, please feel free to schedule a call to discuss them today.

When going through a custody dispute, whether from divorce or custody coming to an agreement in custody &/or visitation can be taxing.  A parenting plan, custody order or parenting agreement are all a part of custody matters.  It is a legal and binding document that addresses how each parent will split time, their rights & responsibilities when the child(ren) is with them and, sometimes, the consequences for breach. Although most states have a standard parenting plan it recommends, parents often have their own idea of how they’d like to coparent and split time. Parenting plans are necessary regardless of custody. However, the details of the various relevant topics vary according to the type of custody each party has. Sole custody situations have a slight variation in how parenting plans are approached.

Types of Parenting Plans

 Step Up Plan-

This plan is typically used in cases where the child is very young and the non-custodial parent has had little to no contact with the child.  This plan aims to gradually increase time or access between the NCP and the child.  The graduated time schedule is often based on the developmental stages of the child while allowing ample time for a bond to develop between them.

 

Joint Custody Plan-

This parenting plan gives both parents equal time and/or equal decision-making abilities.  This applies to joint legal custody, shared or 50/50 custody arrangements.

 

Sole Custody with Visitation Plan-

This plan usually only addresses a time schedule for access/visitation for the NCP parent.  When one parent has sole custody, they have full authority to make all decisions regarding the child’s day to day.

 

Long Distance Plan-

When the parents live a distance apart, this plan gives extra attention to things like the cost of travel, the means of transportation, etc. The access or visitation time is usually different than other more conventional plans. (Read here about long distance parenting.)


Long-Distance Co-Parenting

 

Common Provisions in Parenting Plans

 Most parenting plans cover some basis topics that apply to all families no matter what the dynamics (except for sole custody.) These include:

  

Controversial Provisions in Parenting Plans

            Although there are some pretty standard provisions in most plans, there are some that aren’t but parties routinely request them.  The policy issues behind parents coming up with plans that they can live with are based on efficiency.  The courts’ objective is to keep conflict to minimum so that litigants are not running back to court to help.  As a result, most judges will strongly urge AGAINST including things referred to as “morality clauses”.  These are provisions that focus on things that are of a moral interest.

There are also provisions that are not of a moral nature but that make enforcement of them nearly impossible. Although a plan is a court order and binding on the parties, enforcing it is entirely up to them no one is going to monitor them.

Here is the list:

 1.  Right of First Refusal, ordering that each parent uses the other as backup instead of a third person. There is not always practical depending on the circumstances.

2. No Paramour Exposure, limiting either parent from having a romantic interest around the child. This goes both ways, so the one supporting this usually is the one to want to change it.

3. No variations without Court Intervention, limiting ether parent from making adjustments to schedule amongst themselves. This can be expensive and create more conflict.

4. Child’s Choice to Visit, letting the child choose when & if they spend time with other parent. Younger children are not qualified to make this decision soundly.

5. Child Not Allowed to Call Others Mom or Dad, children can’t use any variation of Mom/Dad for stepparents. Children often decide on their own to call their stepparents Mom or Dad.

6. No Badmouthing the Other Parent, morally this should be an automatic. This is not a likely reason to seek Contempt if either violates.

7. Stepparents are Not to be Involved, stepparents are limited in the day to day of the child when the bio parent is exercising their visits. This is impractical and almost impossible, also may not be in the child’s best interests.

8. Custodial Parent to force Teens to Visit, forcing a teen to visit with the other parent when they refuse. This may be difficult to enforce since the child’s preference is a factor considered.

9. Parties to Agree on Visit Schedule, the parents are to agree, on their own, when visits will be exercised. This leaves the custodial parent with way too much power.

10. Relocation Geographic Limits Based on State, limiting or restricting the ability to relocate to within the current state. The limits should be based on miles because even within state relocations can cause issues with respect to visits.

 

    Things to Consider when Creating the Plan

These provisions are the reason why negotiating the plan details takes a lot of things to keep in mind.

  1. Keep emotions out of it as much as possible.
  2. Focus on the needs of the child(ren).
  3. Remember that your child(ren) will be going through a tough adjustment period.
  4. Be reasonable. What works for one works for the other.
  5. Think short term and long term.
  6. Know what your state laws are.

 

In Conclusion

As parents, you are subject to continuous litigation no matter what.  However, if you can minimize the likelihood of being sued for contempt of court then it makes sense to.  A well thought plan does not mean one that oversteps in its application.  Sometimes, less is more.

If you need help developing a solid parenting plan, please feel free to visit my Unbundled Services page here.

Family Court is a very nuanced place, compared to other courts.  It has its own way of implementing procedural rules, of applying the law, or enforcing litigants’ rights.  Family court Custody legal terms and phrases, that are often misused by non-legal professionals.  Knowing what to say, or not say, is also important. (Read more here on this topic.)

One of the major complaints litigants have is that they don’t understand the “legalese” or “legal jargon” often spoken in court.  Because of this they miss deadlines, file the wrong documents, or worse, violated court orders… unintentionally of course.

It is no secret that some terms are used interchangeably, both correctly and incorrectly so, and compounds things.  Particularly for the pro se litigant, trying to figure out the “right” way to use a word often misused only complicates things even more.

This article will compare some of the most familiar terms and how they differ in meaning despite their interchangeable use.

Family Court Legal Terms Often Confused

Acknowledgement of Paternity vs. Order of Filiation

Acknowledgement of Paternity is a statement (provided by the state by way of a form) where the parents of a child agree that the man that signs it is the biological father.  This form is usually used when the unmarried parties did not acknowledge paternity at the time of the child’s birth/

Order of Filiation is when the court issues a document naming the father as a result of either party bringing a Petition for Paternity on its own or in a custody case.

Access vs. Visitation

Access is the term used in some jurisdictions for parenting time. Same as visitation, it is used interchangeable with access and parenting time in custody cases.

 

Adjournment vs Continuance

Adjournment is when a court reschedules a court date that was originally scheduled for motion, conference, etc.

Continuance is when a court date, usually a hearing or trial, is rescheduled by either party or court.

Admissable Evidence vs. Allowable Evidence

Admissable Evidence is evidence that meets the rules of evidence of a court and can be used in trial.

Allowable Evidence is any evidence that may be allowed because it does not necessarily violate any rules of evidence.

Affidavit vs Under Oath

Affidavit is a written statement made under oath, the person states that they are telling the truth but only in the document.

Under Oath means that the person swearing that they are telling the truth can be in writing or in person.

 

Arrears vs. Judgment of Support

Arrears is the unpaid and overdue child support or spousal support.

Judgment of Support is when action was taken by the court to reduce the unpaid child or spousal support to make either of them executable or attachable.  It can be levied against or attached to the debtor’s assets or income.

 

Attorney for Child vs. Guardian ad Litem

Attorney for Child is a licensed attorney who represents the child in court in custody or abuse cases.

Guardian Ad Litem is someone is trained to represent the child in court, not necessarily a licensed attorney.

Contempt of Court vs. Violation of a Court Order

Contempt of Court can be civil or criminal in nature.  It is up to the laws of the state to determine if the violation of court order can be considered criminal or civil or both.  The punishment for either can range from monetary fines, to a change in custody/visitation to imprisonment.

Violation of a Court Order does not necessarily arise to the level of contempt.  It is usually something that is menial or immaterial, as thus goes unpunished.

Custodial Parent vs. Guardian

Custodial Parent is the parent that has the child live with them a majority of the time.  They can be considered the custodial parent because the parents were never married and the child lives with one parent.  The court can also issue an order naming one parent as the custodial parent as well. The custodial parent can be legally determined in a custody case.

Guardian is ANY party who the child lives with for a period of time or who has authority over a child for a period of time.  A person can be a guardian on a temporary or permanent. The parents can give another person guardianship or the court can order that a person be the guardian in a custody case or a temporary guardianship case.

Default vs Inquest

 Default is when a Respondent (Defendant) party fails to respond to a petition or complaint or fails to respond within the specified time.

Inquest where the Respondent (Defendant) fails to show up in court for a hearing or trial and the Petitioner (Plaintiff) presents evidence and proceeds in the case without them.

In Conclusion

It is always advisable to familiarize yourself with the legalese of Family Court legal terms before you proceed in any case.  The progression of your case and its overall outcome are dependent on this. There are several online resources that make it easier to understand.

Feel free to contact me for a FREE 15-minute consultation here. 

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