This article will focus on general tips from the perspective of a divorce and paternity lawyer in Oklahoma. The following tips are universally applicable to child custody, divorce, paternity, child support, and visitation cases. Paying attention to the details can make a big difference. If ignored, the small stuff can quickly turn into big problems. Please bookmark this article and refer back to it periodically to keep these tips fresh in your mind.
Be on Time
Show up on time. Allow plenty of extra time. It seems there is always construction and other delays that happen at the worst possible time. On your way to the courthouse is the worst possible time. Plan for delays and always be at the courthouse 30 minutes early.
Dress appropriately—no shorts, flip flops, tank tops, etc. First impressions go a long way, especially with the court. Dress as you would for a professional job interview. A shirt and tie are good, throw on a jacket, and it’s even better. Your appearance and how you present yourself can have a significant impact on how the Judge perceives you.
Turn Off Your Phone
Turn Off Your Phone: Want to find yourself under a rock before you even see the Judge? Take a cell phone in the courtroom and let it ring, vibrate, or let the Judge see you texting, checking email, etc. Setting the phone to silent is not good enough. Turn the phone off.
Bring a notebook with you to court. You’re going to want to take notes. Your attorney can only listen to one person at a time. So if someone else is talking and you try to whisper in your attorney’s ear, they will not hear either one of you. So instead, make a note, and your attorney will look at your notes at the appropriate time.
There are Cameras Everywhere
Anything you say, type, text, etc., is probably being recorded. Therefore, at all times, you should conduct yourself as if the Judge was there watching. I am not just talking about while you are at the courthouse. There are cameras everywhere. When in doubt, consult with your divorce lawyer before doing anything that may come back to bite you later.
Visit the Courthouse
Visit the courthouse and sit in on a few hearings if you can. The best way to get a feel for how your Judge operates is to watch other hearings. There will often be divorce, paternity, custody, and child support cases on the same docket. Watching other cases will give you an idea of how the docket works and what to expect. You may even be lucky enough to see how the Judge rules in a case similar to yours.
Think Before Speaking
In court, do not talk directly to your opponent. All comments and arguments should be to the Judge and not include any side conversations with your opposing party. Again, how you present yourself can have a massive impact on your case
Do not interrupt the Judge, opposing divorce lawyer, or opposing party. Don’t roll your eyes, gasp, cuss under your breath, give a death stare to your ex, etc. It can be tough to remain calm when the other side is making ridiculous allegations but know that your behavior will play a HUGE role in how the court perceives you. This is important and is 100% within your control. Be smart.
Less Is More
When testifying, answer only the question asked. If you can answer with one word, do so. If not, answer with the fewest amount of words possible. If you don’t know, don’t guess, say you don’t know. If you don’t understand the question, say so. If you are unsure how to answer something that you know the other side will bring up, ask me in advance, and I will help you put together the most effective response. The less you say, the better. LESS IS MORE.
NEVER say “my” kids. ALWAYS “our” kids. ALWAYS. Don’t forget!
In court, be 100% truthful 100% of the time. Don’t try to play semantics, outsmart the other attorney, or game the system. I know this sounds obvious, and it is, but it’s still important to be mindful of this. The court will respect a truthful answer even if that answer is embarrassing or hard to admit.
Follow all court orders to the letter! Even if the other side is doing everything but following the order, you need to follow the order. A sure way to damage your case is to ignore court orders.
Make Good Decisions
Leave emotions outside the courthouse. In my opinion, making decisions based on emotions creates more obstacles to resolving a case than any other factor. I understand that a family court action may be the most devastating and traumatic event of someone’s life. It’s hard to make decisions under that kind of stress. Both the attorney and the client must recognize this.
Be Careful with Social Media. The best policy is to stay off social media. Some attorneys will require you to deactivate your social media accounts, or they won’t accept the case. I don’t take it quite that far because social media can be used to disseminate information effectively. I use Facebook to post legal updates, etc. However, I do think usage should be heavily restricted.
Social media posts wind up in court all the time. For example, if one of your buddies posts something stupid and winds up on your news feed, this could become an exhibit in court. So, even if it’s not your fault, it can still cause a problem. So, be smart about how you use social media and adjust your settings to prevent unnecessary problems.
Be Prepared For Bogus Allegations
The other party may accuse you of one or more of the following: They may say you use drugs, drink too much, or are violent. Best way to beat this right off the bat: If you think they might make allegations of drug use, take a hair follicle drug test and bring the results to your hearing. If you think they will say there is alcohol abuse, do an alcohol assessment and bring the results. If you think they will say you are violent, do a domestic violence assessment and bring it with you to court. This may seem like jumping through a lot of hoops but being prepared can make a big difference.
Leave the Kids Out Of It
NEVER discuss court or your case with your kids. NEVER discuss court or your case anywhere there is even the most remote chance your kids could hear the conversation. NEVER allow anyone else to discuss court anywhere where there is even the most remote chance your kids could hear. Please don’t do it!
I have published an article that addresses why you should never discuss a court case with a child. Oklahoma Custody Preference: Does The Tail Wag the Dog?
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