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.

A lot of people think stay-at-home moms are a thing of the past.  There are certainly tons of people who have no idea that dads stay at home too.  The decision to stay at home can be based on a variety of reasons but the main one is financial between the parents and divorce. The costs of daycare have skyrocketed in the past decade, making it more logical for one parent to stay home than pay. There are a lot of things that should be taken into consideration when the family makes this decision.

 

The Impact of Divorce On Stay at Home Parents

There are several things that come up in divorces, but particularly in one where one party was the stay at home or homemaker. Finances is a major issue in households with one wage earner when it comes to divorce.   Alimony or spousal support, child support and property division are all common topics that require attention when a divorce action is started.  The stay-at-home party usually needs some financial support to continue while the wage earner usually disagrees.

  1. Alimony or Spousal Support

Most states have a law that allows litigants to sue the other for financial support.  Each state differs in what it considers but some factors are pretty much across state lines.  For example, the duration of the marriage, the employability or work history of the parties, the financial resources, just to name a few.  Most states limit alimony to a set number of years based on the duration of the marriage, the age & health of the parties and the number of years it would take for the non-wage earner to become gainfully employed.  Some states, particularly community property states, do not have any laws for alimony.  Community property states that ALL property acquired during the marriage is subject to equal distribution.


Property Division in Divorce


The stay-at-home parent who was never employed or has no employable skills, due to being out of the workforce, has an advantage. The “employability” of that party is a major factor to consider in how long alimony should go on for.  As does their financial resources, the time it takes for them to find a job and the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.  These are all the factors specifically relevant to stay at home partners or homemakers.

  1. Property Distribution or Division

Property is subject to be divided in the divorce when it was acquired during the marriage. Property division laws follow one of two principles.  Some states have “equitable distribution”, while others are “community property” states.    Equitable distribution laws look at what is “fair” to the parties based on a few factors.   Those factors can include the contribution each party made to the acquisition of the property, the length of the marriage, an award of alimony (it is amount and duration) and the loss of health insurance benefits because of the divorce.  In community property states, however, the marital property is divided equally no matter what if it is considered marital (as opposed to being classified as separate property.)

  1. Child Support

Child Support is determined by the state’s guidelines (statute) and is therefore usually straightforward with respect to calculations.  The problems come up when the wage earner is self-employed, works “off the books”, gets high commissions and bonuses or something similar where income is difficult to determine.  So, with respect to stay at home party in the divorce, the only issue that is highly relevant is if the guidelines allow for deviation from the calculations.   Deviating from the state’s guidelines usually requires that certain elements be present in your case.  For example, in New York the courts are allowed to deviate from the Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”) if the combined income of the parties is $154,000 or more.

So, if the wage earner in your case makes a reported income of at least $154,000, the court can look at each parent’s finances; educational needs of the parents; the income differences between the parents; the lifestyle if the family had remained intact-these factors are relevant in stay-at-home situations.   Although each state has their own guidelines, they may have similar provisions for considering the stay-at-home parent’s circumstances.

  1. Child Custody

When it comes to child custody, it is conceivable that the stay-at-home parent would be in the better position to gain custody of the children.   However, the best interests’ factors help the court determine who should have custody, physical and legal.  (Read here for the best interests’ standards.) The parent that stayed at home with the children is not automatically the more “fit” parent or the one that will be more likely to fulfill the children’s mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs. Parents who work outside of the home can be considered as “fit” or as suitable to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing environment as the homemaker parent.


Best Interests of the Child Custody Each State 


Only some states have specific best interests’ factors, while others have more like guiding principles. The states that have set out factors have implicitly left out the financial resources of each parent as a top of the list consideration.  However, some states have factors that have a more direct impact on the circumstances of stay-at-home parents.  Factors like, the need for continuation of a stable home, adjustments to school and community and parenting ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment.  These factors can have a negative or positive influence on custody since the financial means of the stay-at-home parent will be disrupted.   Maintaining a connection within the community the children are most familiar, staying in the home they are most familiar with, and parenting ability are all indirectly (or directly).  Stay at home parents must make huge adjustments, mainly because of finances, that will cause some inevitable disruptions for them and their children.

 

In conclusion

Deciding if either parent should stay home to raise the children and be a homemaker is a decision that requires the undesirable thought of its implication on divorce.  Although it might suit the family’s circumstances at the time, it can definitely create issues later on.

 

If you wish to discuss our services and how they can help you in your family law matter, please feel free to schedule a FREE 15min consultation.