I went to court and lost my case. I was devastated and that feeling of helplessness when the judge made his ruling stayed with me for a long time. All I could do was gather up my paperwork and leave the courtroom.
This happened a few years ago. I was a litigant in person back then and went to all of my family court hearings without any legal representation. It was one of a number of hearings I attended alone.
Back then, in the run-up to each court hearing, I would stay up until the early hours working on my paperwork. Sometimes, after just a couple of hours’ sleep, I would be back in front of the computer, typing up yet more information for court. I lost count of the hours I spent working on those documents.
I put everything I had into that paperwork, and I mean everything. Details about what had happened, dates, times places, names, facts, figures and quotes. I was thorough, I was detailed, I left no stone unturned. The sheer weight of those sheets of paper reassured me. Each page of densely-covered text told me what I already knew. I was going to win my case. It was obvious.
My one big mistake
As the title of this blog post reveals, my confidence was misplaced.
I want to share with you what I learnt so that you do not fall into the same trap with your own case.
The one, big mistake I made was that I got so bogged down in all the detail that:
I lost sight of the goal.
I had no clear focus.
Instead of being clear about the outcome I was seeking and why, I talked about everything. I rambled in my paperwork.
Wading through all the information I had provided that day took up an entire day in court. But I learnt a lot from the experience and never repeated the same mistake again.
5 ways to make sure your court paperwork helps your case
Here are some tips to help you avoid the mistakes I made.
1) Do a chronology brain dump
Put together a first draft of your chronology in writing but do that first draft as a ‘brain dump’.
If you prefer speaking to writing, hit the record button on your smartphone and record an audio brain dump instead. Talk it out – and just let it flow.
This is the place to get all your thoughts off your chest and out of your mind – and down on paper. Do not edit yourself, just let it flow and get it all out there. Discuss what happened, why, how, etc.
Leave your brain dump where it is and do not read or listen to it for a day or two.
2) Use a template
Whichever form you have used for your chronology brain dump; you will need to convert it into something that you can use in court.
Create a chronology document template using headings in columns – for example 3 columns with the headings: Date, Event, Additional Comments. Next, filter the events to add to your document in chronological order. Use only those events that are directly relevant to the hearing you are going to attend and limit any additional background information you may wish to include to one or two sentences only.
Using a template like this will help you to be more focused, and because you will have had a break between the original brain dump and creating the template chronology, it will help to give you some perspective.
3) Say what you want!
This might sound obvious, but remember to ask for what you want. This information would typically go into your position statement.
It can be easy to get so caught up in all that has happened (and may still be happening, depending on your case) that you lose sight of the goal. Try not to get lost in the narrative or the ‘he said, she said’.
Remember that what may seem obvious to you, will not necessarily be obvious to someone else. Do not assume that that anyone (i.e. the judge) while reading through your paperwork will know what you mean and what you want.
Think about and decide what you want from the court. What order are you asking the judge to make? State it. Clearly.
Side note: say what you have to say clearly and avoid trying to use legal-sounding words or any jargon you think should be included. Being clear about what you are asking for is just as important as asking for it in the first place.
4) Back it up with logic
By this I mean back up or provide a supporting argument for what you are asking, but make sure that the request is a logical one. In other words, does it makes sense?
For example, if you live 50 miles away from your child, a 50% ‘lives with’ order may be unworkable, and may not be in your child’s best interests. Even without the added complexities of distance, a clear, down-the-middle, rigid time spit with the other parent may not be practical, especially for school-age children.
5) Be reasonable
As you draw up your request or list of requests, stop to consider whether you are being reasonable. Being unreasonable is unlikely to put you in a favourable position.
Consider these two brief (fictional) scenarios:
Person A wants to end all financial dealings with Person B and requests a substantial cash lump sum settlement from Person B as part of the financial order proceedings. Person B has a modest income, no cash reserves and owns a second-hand car only, but has always made regular spousal (and child) maintenance payments for the correct amount, on time and consistently to Person A.
Person C wants to end all financial dealings with Person D and requests a substantial cash lump sum settlement from Person D as part of the financial order proceedings. Person D earns a good salary, has substantial savings and investments but does not make any spousal (or child) maintenance payments and has not contributed to the mortgage payments for 6 months.
Decide whether you think Person A or Person C is being reasonable and why.
Get help preparing for your court hearing
If you need help to prepare for your court hearing, I now offer a crib notes service, specially designed for hearings.
Get in touch to find out more and to discover other ways I can help you.
Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas
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