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.

Your Support System, “Village” in your Strategic Plan

One major component of strategic planning is having a support system or a “village”. Not just any support system but one comprised of people with various backgrounds or roles. Of course, having family, friends, support groups, etc. is important during divorce or custody.  Your friend who has never been married has a perspective that’s different than your great-aunt who has been for 50 years. The roles or positions each of them plays, particularly because of their life experiences, is even more critical.  The reason being, you are more able to anticipate your ex’s or soon to be ex’s moves when you have different perspectives to consider. As you know, everything for me is about strategy, so being able to foresee your opponent moves is key.

 


Using Cost-Benefit Analysis to Your Benefit in Family Court


 

Assess Your Values

Everyone has or should have a role in your divorce or custody situation and their role serves a purpose. Family/friends, mental health professionals, legal experts, financial services and so on. When you take a good long look at your values, you can use the members of your support system as a guide.  Your values force you to look at the things that matter most to you and how much you want to honor them.  That means, family, health, happiness, etc., these elements should not be viewed in a vacuum.

 

Know Your Mission

This requires a look at your life journey and purpose.  It includes those values you assessed earlier on, but now has you putting those in perspective.  You should have an overall vision of where you are headed in your life post-divorce or custody (although custody can go on what seems like an eternity.) Your village also plays a part in your vision.  They can help you get there in a theoretical sense, as well as a practical one.

Divorce and custody can…I’m sorry…it will, completely uproot your life.   Your financial situation drastically changes, your emotional state is forever distorted and your mental being is constantly challenged. Your mission for your life as a spouse or even before parenthood completely changes once you are enthralled in divorce or custody.

 

Your Analysis

You need to do a SWOT on yourself and on your overall case.  Yes, you took time to assess your values, dug deeper to come up with a mission, now you need to look at your personal self.  But here’s the thing, you shouldn’t do this on your own.  Your strong and diverse support system will be ideal in helping you in this phase of your strategy.   Your SWOT analysis requires you to look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Identifying your strengths, with respect to the divorce or custody, directs you (or your village) to look at the advantages you have over your ex or soon to be ex; the values that you have that they don’t; the resources you have and so on.

Your weaknesses, where it’s harder to be objective, looks at the areas you lack confidence; the limited resources available to you; your personality traits that make you vulnerable in this particular situation and so on.

The opportunities available to you include things like, the help and support your village can provide in the deficient areas; the ability for you to acquire skills to improve your limitations and so on.

Pinpointing threats forces you to look at obstacles that stand in your way; the potential for any change in your other positions to become a detriment and so on.

The SWOT analysis must be done very carefully, honestly, and methodically.  It can cause tons of discomfort and force you to step outside of your comfort zone, but the benefits are endless. Your village’s cooperation and participation are very important if the SWOT is to be effective.

 

Wrap it All Up

You should not go into your divorce or custody without a plan, theme, or a strategy.   Does not matter what you call it, the important thing is that you give some time and attention to developing a thorough, well thought out plan for every phase of the process.  You cannot, nor should you, do it all on your own.   It takes a combination of skills, talents, and traits to create the best strategy and that’s where your village comes in.

Take your time, get your emotions in check, and clear your mind.

 

In Conclusion

When facing divorce or custody, it is not unheard of to seek help from therapists, church, friends, family, etc.  But I wanted to show you a different perspective in how they can help you get through the process with a clear vision and plan.  You increase your chances of getting better outcomes when you take the time to cultivate a village of supporters who bring something different to the equation.

If you need help with strategy in your Family Court matter, feel free to schedule a FREE consultation here.