In today’s economy, many separated and divorcing people face being their own lawyer at a California child support, child custody or alimony (spousal support) hearing. Whether your case is set in Vista, San Diego, El Cajon or Riverside, You may wonder, “how do I get support or child custody if I don’t have a huge war chest?” Increasingly, fathers and mothers in divorce cases must write their own affidavits or declarations in support of their positions on child custody, child support, alimony and property issues.
Here’s the rub: Family Court judges are lawyers, trained to understand legal arguments. Even if you are before the court In Pro Per (literally “on behalf of myself”), you are expected to write a lawyer-like declaration, and to present accurate, neat, lawyer-like pleadings.
I have had private conversations with judges who tell me that they dread seeing the unrepresented child custody, child support and alimony cases come before them. Though you may not think so, these hard-working judges really do care about the well-being of your children and they want to make a fair decision in your case. You will get more time with your children, and a better child support or alimony award, if you make the judge’s job easier. Here are some tips:
1. When drafting Order to Show Cause (OSC) declarations, stick to the facts and avoid conclusions. Preparing declarations is a little like writing a newspaper article. Stick to the what, where, why, when and how. Avoid conclusions like “she is an unfit mother,” or “he is an emotionally abusive father.” It is better to let the facts do the talking. The more specific you can be as to the exact date, time, place and circumstance of each individual instance, the better. Instead of making a conclusion, set forth the facts that will lead the judge irresistibly to your conclusion.
2. Break your narrative into short, numbered paragraphs. Nothing will give your Family Court judge an Excedrin headache faster than long, run-on paragraphs. When I write declarations, I number each paragraph, and I break each incident down into a brief paragraph setting forth the “what, where, why, when and how” of the incident I wish to describe. Here’s an example:
“On April 11, 2011, Ms. Jones pleaded guilty to charges of driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs, driving with a blood alcohol content of greater than 0.8% and-and-run with property damage. At the time of the arrest in the latter case, February 12, 2011 at 11:00 PM, Ms. Jones was driving, presumably while intoxicated, with the minor children in the backseat of her car.”
3. Proofread your work. The more professional your work product, the better. Have a friend, preferably a good speller, review your work. Take the time to do your writing well, and if you know someone who is a good writer, have them ghost-write your declaration. Make sure your work is easy to read and understand, and you will increase the chances that the judge will rule in your favor.
4. Hire an expert lawyer, such as Thomas Ferreira, to draft your moving papers. I am an excellent writer, deeply familiar with type of writing that Family Court judges expect. Also, I am able to be objective, writing your request for child support, increased time with your children or spousal support in a way that will impress the judge without sounding shrill. And, current Rules of Court do not require that an attorney performing “unbundled services” reveal that he is the actual author of the papers. You are free to present your papers to the court as your own.
Following this advice, you should be able to make a winning argument at your child custody or support hearing. Please not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about how to draft winning declarations.