When I’m representing parents in child custody court, it’s always entertaining to watch the “pro pers” while I’m waiting for my case to be called. Day before yesterday was one of the best, illustrating the well-worn motto that the person who represents himself in court has a fool for a client (and for a lawyer, too!).

I know that many of you can’t afford representation, and you think, well, “what could be so hard about representing myself in court? I’ll just tell the judge what I want and why I want it.” But that’s only effective if you know what buttons to push verbally, and what “buzz-words” to use.

While at the Hemet Court (a branch of the Riverside County office of the Superior Court), I saw a guy trying to get more time with his kids tell a judge that he wouldn’t stop filing applications for court orders until he got more time.

“You mean,” said Judge James Warren of Hemet, “that you’re going to come in with the same motion time after time, in the hope that I’ll get tired of you and make a different ruling?” “Yes, sir,” replied the obtuse pro per.

It gets worse. Judge Warren continued: “so you’re just here to waste everybody’s time.” “Yes, sir,” he replied.

Well, I suppose he should get points for honesty. But needless to say, Judge Warren ruled in favor of his ex-wife.

Dads, you must understand that you can’t just come into court time after time doing the same thing and expecting different results. Child custody is a marathon, not a sprint. What I mean is this: Don’t file your motion until there’s something different that results in a “change of circumstances” (there’s one of those “buzz words”) justifying more time with your kids. But how do you create the change that will get you more time? Here are a few tips:

  • Disengage from conflict with your ex. It’s natural to have conflict with your ex. If you didn’t have conflict, you’d still be with her. But the courts want you to show that you can cooperate!
  • Take the energy that you would use trying to control the ex, and devote it to your parent-child relationship. I don’t mean taking the child to Disneyland, although that’s not bad once in a while. I mean helping with homework, getting to know your child’s teachers, taking an interest in the child’s moral development, in short, being a great parent.
  • Use the time that you have. Many dads, in the course of insisting on their “father’s rights,” waste energey resenting their lack of time with the kids. But even if the court has given you supervised visits, you can turn this to your advantage. If you have a visitation supervisor, your goal should be such a great parent during your visit that you leave a tear in the corner of the supervisor’s eyes (“Wow, he’s such a great dad”). Remember, professional supervisors write reports that can be used as evidence in your case!
  • See an expert custody and visitation lawyer before you file. Whether you’re appearing in Hemet or North San Diego, a consultation with a divorce or family law attorney will tell you whether the time is right to file, and what buzz words to use. You’ll need advice on what to say to the judge and to the family court services mediator. You can save money by having the lawyer draft your moving papers, your declaration and your “points and authorities” (written legal argument). An attorney can “ghost-write” these documents for you and you don’t even have to tell your ex that you got the advice.

By following this advice, you can avoid an outcome like the one obtained by our Hero from Hemet. Until next time, I remain …

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

Divorce and Child Custody Attorney/Mediator.

Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

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