Custody cases can be emotionally draining, but in many cases, parents who want custody can represent themselves in family court with the proper preparation and education. Often, finances place an even bigger strain on parents who are already dealing with the difficulty of a custody case and perhaps a recent divorce as well, and lawyer’s fees only add to the struggle.
Representing yourself may sound difficult, but by reducing your legal costs and giving you some more control over the process, it can actually take some of the pressure off of you. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.
In most cases, custody isn’t as complicated as other legal matters that you might encounter. Take a look at some tips for preparing and presenting your custody case in family court.
Understand Your State Laws
Child custody law varies from state to state in some important ways. For example, in some states, in order for a custody arrangement to be considered a joint custody arrangement, the child has to spend a certain number of nights with each parent, or the arrangement doesn’t qualify as joint custody.
In other states, there is no minimum number of overnights – parents could maintain a joint custody arrangement even if the child only spends a few nights a year with one parent and the rest of the nights with the other parent.
It’s important to know what the laws are in your state so that you can figure out how those laws apply in your situation. If you want something like a joint custody arrangement, you need to understand what it is that you’re asking for, as defined by the laws in your state.
Understand the Court’s Standards
When deciding court cases, judges apply certain standards to the evidence and arguments presented in order to help them make the decision. In custody cases and other family court cases, the most important standard is usually “the best interests of the child” standard.
In other words, the judge most likely isn’t interested in splitting the children up fairly the way they might split money or assets, instead, they’re concerned with doing whatever will result in the best outcome for the child involved.
That means that whatever your custody petition asks for and whatever evidence you present in support of your case should be aimed at showing that your custody plan is in the best interests of your child. If you’re asking for sole custody, or you want your child’s other parent to no longer have contact with your child, you also need to know about the “better parent” standard.
Essentially, you will need to be able to show that of the two of you, you are the better parent. That’s something that’s difficult to prove, especially if there is no history of abuse or alarming health and safety risks to your child, so consider what you’re asking for carefully and choose your evidence to present in court accordingly.
Prepare Your Documentation Properly
Court filings have to be prepared carefully. Documentation mistakes can cause delays in your case or cause evidence to be thrown out and not considered. It’s often this that prompts people to hire lawyers.
Even if you understand enough about the custody laws in your state and the way that family courts work to advocate for yourself, it’s easy to get hung up on paperwork and other administrative aspects of a court case.
But you actually can handle your documentation yourself if you’re careful and take the time to educate yourself. One great way to do this is by using a legal resource group. A legal resource group is not a lawyer, but they can help you prepare for your court case.
This includes (but is not limited to) preparing and storing documentation, so that you can be certain that those items are filled out correctly and that no important documents get damaged, lost, or misplaced.
Learn Courtroom Etiquette
Courtroom etiquette matters more than you might think. Emotional outbursts, inflammatory statements, and unfounded accusations can all put you in a bad light in the eyes of the judge who will be deciding your case.
If the closest you’ve ever been to a courtroom is watching reruns of Law & Order on TV, you probably have some misconceptions about how to behave in a courtroom. After all, emotional outbursts, inflammatory statements and unfounded accusations are typically the highest drama points in a fictional courtroom and are often used to bring some resolution or insight to the plot.
But in real courtrooms, the same behavior simply won’t be tolerated, and may negatively affect your case. Some important aspects of courtroom etiquette includes:
- Showing deference to the judge
- Treating other court officials, witnesses, and other parties involved in the case with respect and politeness
- Waiting your turn to speak
- Avoiding interruptions like ringing cell phones
A legal resource group can also help with preparing you for court and helping you understand the rules of courtroom etiquette.
Consider Your Appearance
You may say that your clothes and outward appearance don’t have anything to do with your ability to parent your child. And that may be true. But how you dress for family court still makes a difference.
You’re going to be judged on your appearance as well as your arguments and evidence, and the court may consider inappropriate dress a sign of irresponsibility or not taking the proceedings seriously enough. It’s unavoidable, so you may as well dress for success.
You’ll want to dress conservatively and professionally. Men should wear suits, and women probably will want to wear dresses or pantsuits. Consider covering tattoos and removing piercings other than standard earrings. Women should consider their hair and makeup as well – you should look neat and avoid anything shocking or overly dramatic.
Preparing and presenting a case in family court will take work, but in most cases, it is possible for parents to successfully represent themselves in a custody case. National Family Solutions can help you get ready for court and ensure that your case is ready for a judge to review.