Hi, this is Thomas Ferreira, your Carlsbad, attorney, and mediator for divorce cases and child custody cases. And today I want to start the first in a series on how to get the most from your lawyer. I want to talk about how to prepare for that first meeting in a child custody case. Child custody cases are emotional because they really kind of go to the heart of your family relationships.

How You Feel

A child custody case can be hard on your self-esteem.  For me personally, the worst thing you could possibly say to me is “you’re a terrible dad.” Yet in court the main line of attack seems to be about the person’s parenting.

One other thing I find maddening is that the court completely misses the truth in your case. I know because I’ve been there, I’m not only a divorce attorney, but I’m also a divorced attorney.

Not only have I seen hundreds of child custody cases play out, but I’ve been there myself. That’s important because many divorce attorneys have not been in their client’s shoes. In that first interview, when I’m taking in that case, I’m interested in getting facts, but mostly I want the big picture. What are your big concerns about the children? What are you looking for the court to do about them?

Most conversations that I have with clients start with the client simply spilling her guts about what happened. What happened is important information, but often it’s like drinking through a fire hose.  It is important to understand that as an attorney I’m taking your facts and putting them into categories, based on the law.  Everything that the court can do for you has elements.  For example, to charge someone with robbery, you need facts showing:

1. The accused took some property.

2. That property was in the possession or immediate presence of another person.

3. The property was taken against the person’s will.

4. The property was taken by force or threat of force.

Unless the prosecution proves that each of these elements were present, the jury cannot convict the defendant of robbery.  So were the accused person to come into my office, I wouldn’t care if he was broke and hungry when he committed the crime.  I wouldn’t care if he had argued with his girlfriend an hour before.  All I really care about are facts that fall  into one of those four categories.

Your Parenting Goals

A good place to start with your attorney is to let her know your goals for the litigation.  I recommend that you do some hard thinking about the type of parent you want to be. What are your financial and family goals? How do you balance work and family life? What time do you have available to parent? Do you have people in your life that can help you with childcare and other needs? Once I as your attorney know what your values and goals are around parenting, I can help you decide what parenting schedule is good for your situation.

Going to Court: What Your Attorney Needs

When we get to court we need to have a parenting plan already in mind, one that’s tailored specifically to your situation and presents solutions that will work for you. In California, Questions of child custody, revolve around what’s called the best interest of the child standard. When you’re telling me your story, I am looking at the facts through the lens of what’s best for your children.

During that initial client interview, my mind is busy, putting all the facts you’re giving me into these little cubbies of child’s best interest and what parenting plans I typically see. So here’s primarily what I need to know. What outcome are you looking for?  For example, if you’re concerned about physical or mental harm to the child, you may be looking for a restraining order or how to build a case of parental alienation.  If the the other parent is an otherwise good parent and you have a frequently-changing work schedule, you may need a flexible plan that will balance continuity for the child against your need to make a  living.

Let’s say I win your case, What does that outcome look like? What are you looking for in an order for the child? Are you looking for an order that the child have no contact with the other parent, or is your concern to have equal parenting time? Depending on your answer, our legal strategy will be different.

For example, if you want full legal and physical custody, be prepared to discuss your concerns about the other parent. Is there drinking, drug use abuse, parental alienation?  Be prepared to talk about those specific incidents of this.

For a more equal parenting plan, we need to know how you balance work and family.  Equal, 50-50 parenting time with your children may be a fair result, but if you’re a 70-hour plus a week executive working for a big company, you may find yourself unable to find the required time for that parenting plan.

Preparing for Your Consultation or Meeting with Your Attorney

Before you come into my office, think about what’s best for your children. Try coming up with a schedule that will allow you to participate in all aspects of parenting during your time. I find that people who know what they want at the outset tend to do better in child custody and visitation cases. These clients do better because judges, and custody mediators and other professionals perceive that they’ve actually thought through the decisions and what’s good for the kids.  This makes the client seem more “child-focused.”

So think through those things and come prepared to talk about the facts of our situation and also about your ideal outcome.  What are your goals for this litigation? What outcomes do you want and why do you want them?

Until next time, this is Thomas Ferreira exhorting you to live well and don’t let the turkeys get you down.

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