If you are hoping to be able to tell the Judge your life story, you are in for a surprise.
Judges often will not allow more than four hours for a Temporary Hearing in a divorce or custody case. That's four hours total, from beginning to end, not four hours per party. The case that is presented to the Judge has to be targeted, precise and directly relevant to the temporary issues in the case.
Temporary issues typically include interim child custody, child support and alimony issues as well as who will have temporary possession of the marital home and responsibility for paying the bills until the final decree is entered. That means you will have very little time to present a host of important issues to the Judge. Rather than presenting a documentary of the past 10+ years of your marriage, you will in essence be giving the Judge a polaroid snapshot of what is going on now and why you need the relief you are currently requesting.
At the end of a Temporary Hearing, you will have succeeded in your mission if the Judge has a basic understanding of who you are and what you need the relief you have requested. You must be considerate of the Judge's time and scheduling demands and be ready to immediately convey the essence of your case. You must be clear, consistent and concise.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind:
1. Dress appropriately. Hoodies, sneakers, flip-flops, jeans and tee shirts have no place in a courtroom. Dress as if you were going on a job interview at IBM. If you have long hair, make sure it is pulled back and not all over the place. Look like a professional. Taking the time to dress up for court conveys to the Judge that you are taking this case seriously and understand and respect the rules of courtroom decorum.
2. When you are testifying, be respectful of the lawyers and Judge. Answer questions directly and don't argue with opposing counsel, try to talk over objections or continue to testify when the Judge is speaking. If you are evasive, the Judge may interpret that as an effort to hide the truth. While you need to answer every question, you need to be sure to explain every answer that requires explanation. If you are asked your name, you should be able to answer without any further explanation. If you are asked if you beat your spouse and you did so, it may be necessary to explain that you beat your spouse after he/she knocked you in the head with a frying pan and picked up a gun and threatened you. Give explanations when required. Don't add explanations where none are needed.
3. Own up to your own bad behavior. If your conduct has been less than stellar, acknowledge your mistakes and make it clear that you recognize them and are working to do better in the future. Don't try to come off as Mother Teresa or Gandhi. You aren't perfect or completely selfless and shouldn't pretend that are. Be honest about where you have faltered and things you could do better and you will be more believable to the Judge.
4. Allow your personality to come through when you testify. Judges hear hundreds of similar sounding cases every month and they all start running together after awhile. If you're testify consists mostly of “yes's” and “no's” and short one or two word sentences, the Judge will no concept of the real you. You don't want to sound like every other divorcing parent. It is much better to be real, reveal a little about yourself and let your true self shine through.
5. When you are not testifying, you should be sitting quietly at counsel table. Be attentive, not distracted, and don't do anything to disrupt the witness who is testifying, such as making faces, snorting or shaking your head vigorously every time you disagree with the witness. Resist the urge to constantly scribble notes on a notepad or whisper in your attorney's ear while your spouse and other witnesses are testifying. If the testimony is against you, don't magnify its importance by your own dramatic reaction to it. Be clam and try not to distract your attorney from listening to what is being said and
6. Focus on the big picture. It's not necessary to refute every single allegation that your spouse raises. Keep your eye on what is important in the case and make sure your testimony supports the key points in your case. The more issues your raise, the more likely it will be that the Judge is distracted from the main issues and decides can miss your message. Temporary Hearings set the tone for the final hearing in your case. Judges tend to adopt the same or similar findings at the final hearing that they put in place at the Temporary Hearing. Don't overlook the importance of the Temporary hearing and its impact on your case.
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