Everything is a moving target with COVID-19, quarantine and overworked courts changing the way family law is practiced in our courts. Unfortunately, many staffers in our courts were furloughed when the courts already had more than they could do.
In my opinion, sometimes judges are a bit hard on parents who would have stayed married if “getting along” were an option. But even so, the reality is that you must co-parent or parallel parent if you possibly can. Courts will assume both parents can confer and reach agreements. Courts will assume meaningful, unsupervised time with both parents is going to happen absent “endangerment” such as child abuse or neglect or “significant emotional impairment” harming the child’s mental health long term. We already published a blog about video hearings and those rules still apply. But there are new updates parents MUST know before proceeding to family law court.
1. WORK IT OUT
Now more than ever, try to settle and stipulate to as much as you can. In my experience, courts really get frustrated when parents run to them to solve what they may consider petty or resolvable fights. Their go-to seems to be that BOTH parents need to try harder, even in cases of abuse or neglect. Sometimes, I think they are too hard on clients. If they had to deal with some of these parents, they would be at the end of their rope and going to court too, maybe even cursing. But that is not the standard or an excuse. To do well in court, now more than ever, parents need to do what works. What works is to try as hard as possible to work things out AND put it writing. Then go to court only as a last resort. If you do this, you will have more credibility.
2. SEE THE BEST IN THE OTHER PARENT
Even though it is an adversarial process, I believe judges and magistrates are sick and tired of hearing one parent after another slam the other parent and demonize them. It makes more sense to point out the good then mention the concerns supported by evidence. If there is good evidence, a judge will look at it no matter what you say.
Two phrases you do NOT want to hear in your case: “not credible” or “entrenched in their positions.” This means the judge does not believe what you said and probably don’t give your words much weight, either because they think you are lying or because they think you have lost your objectivity to such an extent that your judgment is not reliable.
“Entrenched” seems to be the latest buzzword. Do what you can to avoid seeming that way and make sure you can back it up with excellence in your emails, texts, Talking Parents posts, Our Family Wizard posts, social media and verbal conversations, even when the child is not present. This evidence counts. Besides, it is the right thing to do.
3. READ CASE MANAGEMENT, NOTICES OF HEARING, WEBEX ORDERS AND EMAILS
Courts are working hard, and perhaps struggling, to get up to speed with the new online hearings. Again, it is a moving target as they come up with new and creative ways to make online hearings work. Every time I read a Webex order, it has something new, including deadlines to upload exhibits. See No. 4 below. You need to make sure you do not miss anything.
4. UPLOAD YOUR EXHIBITS
Some counties, such as Douglas and Arapahoe, have a pilot project that allows unrepresented parties to upload their hearing exhibits to an online electronic-filing/e-filing system known as ICCES or JBITS. Other counties, such as Jefferson County, do not. In my experience, using e-filed exhibits is superior to the bulky trial exhibits we use in person. If you can have an attorney’s office upload these exhibits and share them via screen share, you will be ahead of the game.
Do NOT wait too long. Even hitting a court deadline may be too late if you do not alert the front office to rush the exhibits to the division where the hearing is heard. I often state “forthwith” or “rush” and put a note to the domestic court to be sure the exhibits get to their destination in time. Calling and emailing the court helps too. Also make sure to label your exhibits on ICCES/JBITS so everyone is on the same page, knowing the exhibit number or letter and a short description or title for the exhibit itself.
5. PRACTICE WEBEX
Every time I log into Webex, there is a new feature. I have even tested my microphone and video only to have them malfunction at hearing, requiring a quick adjustment. Make sure you know how to screen share, how to hook in your microphone, and how to mute and unmute yourself based on the LATEST version of Webex which, again, is a moving target. I had to learn the hard way my docking station does more harm than good so I have do hearings on my laptop. Use a techy friend or family member to help you build up your comfort for hearing.
6. HAVE A DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT PLAN
Mediation and court are different online. You need to make sure you read everything carefully and keep careful track of versions. Screen sharing helps. So does carefully labeling and keeping a chart, list or spreadsheet. You may need a friend to help to the extent you can do so without waiving confidentiality. Of course, having an attorney help with this is best.
7. HAVE A TIME MANAGEMENT PLAN
The biggest mistake parents make in their family law hearings is wasting time. They go on for minutes or even hours on an irrelevant issue and run out of time before they address the main points. Your opposing party or attorney may be more than happy to let an opposing party waste time and then run out of time. When you waste time, it makes it that much easier for the other side to ensure their evidence is the only evidence on point. In other words, wasting time and running out of time makes it more likely you will fail to prove your case or, as some may say, lose.
8. DO NOT EXPLOIT COVID-19 OR USE IT AS AN EXCUSE
EVERYONE is having a hard time in 2020 due to COVID-19. You are NOT the only one. Judges know this. In fact, in my experience, judges and magistrates have some of the best malarkey detectors on the planet. They know when someone his hoarding the parenting time using COVID-19 fear as a reason to never let the other parent see the kids, even when there is no unusual exposure or illness in the other house. They know when someone is not even trying to get a job and then blaming COVID-19 for their low income. They know when a parent waits to see if the other parent wants masks/no masks in preschool, in person/homeschool, trips/no trips and then always picks the opposite just to give the other parent a hard time. Of course, there are many times when parents have strong opinions and do not agree, but do NOT use COVID-19 to make a power play. The odds are overwhelming that you will get caught and it will backfire. As for excuses, it is said that an excuse is a lie that no one believes but you. That includes your judge.
9. ASK YOUR ATTORNEY
It is a tough time—tougher than usual due to COVID-19, quarantine and court furloughs. As mentioned, everything is a moving target. It makes sense now more than ever to call an attorney when in doubt. With an affordable retainer and unbundled services, you can just check in as needed. If things ramp up, you can switch to full service. Conversely, if you run low on funds or believe the other party is exploiting the fact that you have an attorney in order to run up fees, switching back to unbundled is always an option.
At Andersen Law PC, we can be collaborative to help you reach a solution for your family and you. Call 720-922-3880 for your free consultation.