A child custody or divorce case can be one of the most important events in a person’s life. It can also be one of the more expensive events too. However, there are things that a person can do to help minimize that expense while also seeking the best possible outcome for the case.
Obtain an attorney quickly
Divorce and custody cases have important deadlines, and failing to abide by those deadlines can easily result in harm to a person’s legal interests.
As an example, in Illinois a person generally has 30 days to Answer a divorce or child custody Petition. In Iowa, that number is 20 days (plus another 10 days after a Notice of Intent to Default is sent). Failing to comply with those deadlines can result in a Default, where the court rules against the party who failed to Answer. In the best case, an attorney can later undo the Default, often having to spend hundreds of dollars of the client’s money to do so – an expense that could have been avoided if the client had not waited too long and caused a Default as a result. In other cases, the Default cannot be undone, and great harm to a person’s legal interests results. Indeed, Defaults can result in a person losing custody of their child.
Even if a person does not wait too long to Answer, it is common for the court in a divorce or custody case to handle temporary custody early on in the case. Sometimes those matters are part of a temporary matters hearing a week or two after the case is filed, and other times they are handled on an emergency basis. A person who does not have a lawyer to handle that portion of the case will often not get a good outcome, and that temporary order can last for months (or longer), and can also have an impact upon the final outcome of the case. For example, if one parent is awarded temporary custody of a child, the other parent may be a great disadvantage later, when the parent who got temporary custody is able to show that the child is doing well in their home and should not be removed later.
Avoid taking action when you are feeling emotional
Child custody and divorce cases can be extremely emotional. As an attorney who has handled many such cases in Illinois and Iowa, I have seen how such family law situations can make even the most rational people act in ways they would not otherwise act. It is important for everyone who is going through a divorce or custody case to remember that the actions they take may have very real negative consequences. I have seen cases where a client or the opposing party has done something in the heat of the moment that led that person to deeply regret that action later.
Let your lawyer know when something of importance happens in your case
An attorney, by definition, knows the law and how to make use of the court system to help their client. It is the application of the facts that the attorney learns from the client that allows the attorney to do their job and get the best outcome for the client. If the client withholds those facts, then the attorney cannot possible get the best outcome. As such, it is vital for clients to share important information with their lawyer.
Take your attorney’s advice to heart
Attorneys will give clients advice throughout the divorce or child custody case. It is up to the client to listen to and take that advice. All too often, a client will choose to ignore their lawyer’s advice, and the result is often harm to the client’s case. To be sure, a lawyer’s job is not to boss their client around, and I have never been angry with a client because that client decided to ignore my advice and caused themselves harm. But, as a person’s attorney my goal is to get the best outcome for them and hope that they follow my advice so that I am able to help them.
If you have questions, ask your attorney
The legal system is one of the most complex things we humans have created. There are many thousands of laws, and even more court decisions that interpret and modify those laws. The language that the legal system uses has developed from Latin and even many of the English words that appear have a different meaning in the legal system then they would have in everyday use. The procedures employed by courts do not mirror everyday life. As such, it is common for people who are not lawyers to find the legal system to be utterly confusing.
Lawyers do their best to help their clients understand what is happening in the case, what will happen next, and what the client should do (and refrain from doing). However, lawyers cannot read their client’s mind. So, if you have a question about your case, be sure to ask so that your attorney can explain things.
Remember that your family and friends are not your lawyer
We all value the opinions of our family and friends, and look to those loved ones in difficult times. That is perfectly normal and good, but it is important to remember that your loved ones are not the people to turn to for legal advice. There are two important reasons that this is the case.
Firstly, your family and friends to whom you might turn are likely not attorneys who practice family law in the area where you live. As such, they do not know the law, the judges, etc., and are simply not qualified to give you legal advice. Your mother may be an intelligent lady who cares about you and is great at her profession, but that doesn’t mean she can give sound legal advice, and more than I (as an attorney) am qualified to give medical advice.
Secondly, you friends and relatives are likely too emotionally close to you to give good legal advice. That is because a person who is too close to the situation, such as close relative or friend, will have their judgment clouded by that closeness. It is why I as an attorney would never handle a contentious child custody case for a close friend or relative, as I could not maintain the needed detachment to properly do my job. I have told those close to me exactly that in the past when asked for legal advice.
Preserve useful evidence
It is common for text messages and electronic information such as facebook posts to play an important role in custody and divorce cases. Other evidence, such as receipts and photographs, are also commonly used as evidence. It is important to work with your attorney to ensure that you preserve that evidence and provide it to your attorney so that it can be used in the case.
Comply with Discovery
Discovery, which includes document production and interrogatories, is an important part of divorce and child custody cases. Properly complying with discovery requests from the opposing side is a requirement of the legal system, and those who fail to comply will often see much harm to their cases. Working with your attorney to comply with discovery, while also avoiding improper discovery requests from the opposing side, is important.