Going through any family law legal matter can be a stressful process. Whether it be divorce, custody, alimony, or a related matter, tensions can get high and the stakes get raised. It is in these key moments that seemingly simple mistakes can compound into major game changers. Here are five common mistakes family law clients make - and how to avoid them.
1. Hiding Information From Your Attorney
Have you ever heard the phrase "information is power"? Well, in a family law proceeding, withholding information from your attorney limits your "power" and can cause a legal nightmare. In order to develop a coherent and effective legal strategy, your family law attorney needs to understand the full scope of the situation. Even if something is embarrassing or seems insignificant, err on the side of disclosure and tell your attorney.
2. Not Complying with a Court Order
Family law matters are often complex engagements that take time to resolve. An important part of this process is demonstrating your ability to follow directions and listen to the judge. There are no minor or less significant Orders. If it comes from the judge, you must comply. There are not many things you can do to hurt your case more than failing to follow a directive from the court. If you have questions, are confused about an order, or are afraid you may not be able to comply, contact your lawyer immediately --- they will provide counsel on your options and should try to mitigate any potential damage to your case.
3. Disheveled Courtroom Appearance
First impressions aren't just reserved for dates and job interviews --- they're a crucial part of any court proceeding. Although judges are ruling on legal interpretations, they are human beings just like you and me. Someone who is well put together may not win a case just because they look good, but showing up to court looking like you don't care about the outcome can certainly impact a decision. Dress well and make a good impression.
4. Poor or Inconsistent Behavior
Family law cases, unlike many other legal matters, depend heavily on the clients involved and their actions. Judges are not only asked to make legal decisions, but they may also take into account key items such as your fitness to care for a child, your character, or your integrity. As a proceeding carries on (whether in court or out of court), your actions will weigh heavily on the final outcome. Are you a person who keeps their word or are you unreliable? Do you act respectful in court or are you constantly interrupting the Judge? Do you actively seek resolution with the opposition or are you being difficult just for the sake of getting your way? If you keep your emotions in check and demonstrate a pattern of positive behavior, it can only help your case.
5. Demanding Your Day in Court
Divorces, custody disputes, child support applications, and related matters can get expensive - quickly. Keeping your matter out of court is a great way to keep your legal fees down and to retain control over your situation. Some clients want to go to court just for the sake of having their concerns heard by a Judge. Keep in mind, though, once you let the matter get to court, (i) you lose a significant amount of control over your case's outcome and (ii) you can expect your legal bill to skyrocket. Listen to your attorney's advice and try to keep the dispute out of court, if at all possible.
Julianne C. Smith, Esq. is a family law associate at the Weiner Law Group LLP, located in Parsippany, NJ. She dedicates her practice entirely to the area of Family Law, including divorce, custody, parenting time,child support, spousal support, and equitable distribution. She offers free family law consultations at her Parsippany, NJ office.