This is Thomas Ferreira, your divorce and child custody lawyer and mediator in Carlsbad, California. I just got back from back-to-school orientation for my boys. I took this task on even though my ex-wife has the kids this week, applying my core strategy of being nice and building trust.

Now I’d like to move on to a subject on many of your minds: What do I do when I feel like I’m in over my head, especially if I have a family court date coming up? It may surprise you to learn that even seasoned family lawyers can be nervous before court. And, what about your written presentation. Don’t most judges make a tentative ruling before a family law or child custody hearing based on what you present in writing? You may be wonderful at explaining your case to others, but poor writer. Or maybe you write like a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, but you get tongue-tied and flabbergasted as soon as you’re before the court.

If that’s you, let me introduce you to a wonderful and well-hidden secret in family law: You don’t need to hire a lawyer to handle every aspect of the case. Hire a lawyer to do those things that you need, and manage the rest of the case yourself.

Ghost-Written Motion Papers:
One way to use a lawyer effectively and inexpensively is to have the lawyer “ghost-write” your court papers. Did you know that an expert family lawyer can write your papers for any motion, and you don’t have to disclose who did the work? You ask the lawyer to prepare your motion or Request for Order, and give the lawyer the facts. The lawyer will then write a persuasive declaration and written argument championing your cause. The paperwork is then filed by you. You get a professional work product without having the lawyer sign on as your attorney of record.

In California, I draft moving papers for request for order hearings (“RFOs”), domestic violence proceedings and even trial briefs. I can ghost-write RFOs or Responses to RFOs in your divorce case for a flat fee of $700. Prices may vary based on complexity of the matter, but I will normally require a $3,000 deposit (10 hours of professional time) to handle the same RFO from start to finish.

You know your case better than anyone. You know your finances and your relationship to the children, and are in the best position to argue your RFO. And, you’ve put your best foot forward with a top-flight declaration, legal brief (“points and authorities) and list of exhibits.

Spot Appearances:
If you’ve followed our advice in the past and organized your exhibits and evidence, you may just need someone to argue the motion in court. An attorney can sign a “Notice of Limited Scope Representation” and be your attorney of record for just that appearance.

I find that many times people spend their entire war chest early in the case, and find themselves facing a child custody or family law trial without an attorney. If you’ve got a fight on your hands, it’s sometimes effective to save your best ammunition for the final battle. Have a lawyer draft your moving papers, your exhibits, and then make the appearance at your trial. Make sure you make arrangements with the attorney well in advance of the trial date, as most attorneys are reluctant to jump into a case in the weeks leading up to a trial.

Unbundled Services as Part of a Comprehensive Plan:
Unbundled representation is not always the best way to go, and I advise you to consult with a lawyer early on to create a comprehensive plan of action. If you’re using attorney services as needed, you are responsible to build the case file and the record without the lawyer’s help. It’s best to establish a relationship with a lawyer who has familiarity with your case. Don’t expect a lawyer to jump in and try your case one week before the trial date.

Remember, too, that the best case is a settled case. Try to avoid court battles when possible so that you can …

Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

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