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How to Manage Your Court Case

Updated Oct 2020

It’s one thing to craft a successful court strategy – but it’s an entirely different ballgame to put it into action. Once the court dates start, it’s a most daunting task to keep up with everything that happens and maintain sanity. Managing your court case is more art than science. This tips will help you bring your strategy home.

Court Case Dates and Paperwork Filing

Meet your Deadlines. No matter what. Even if the dog ate your homework. When you are a long distance parent, you probably aren’t in the state in which the court case is happening. This makes it doubly difficult to meet your dates.

It is often possible to manage your end of the case without having to fly in for court appearances.

  • Get very familiar with the family law website of the county your case is in. It will often have the forms, instructions and resources you need.
  • Check with the court to see if they offer telephone or conference options.
  • Sometimes, your attorney can appear on your behalf.
  • Your court clerk can tell you how to file paperwork via mail or email. Follow their process exactly to get your paperwork in on time.

Be Your Own Advocate, Even with your Attorney

Trust your attorney to the extent that they will not willfully throw you under the bus… but you, ultimately, are the one with your own best interest at heart. If you feel like things should be going in a different direction, speak up.

Keep all of the paperwork and physical proof that you fill out or that your attorney gives you. Attorneys are not infallible and you might need to say “Hey remember this?” at an opportune moment. Employ these 10 Points of Defensive Strategy, even when working with your attorney.

Be an Ideal Subject of the Court

If you’ve never been in court, you might not know what to expect. There are some special court rules but as long as you follow those ‘best behavior’ rules that your mom taught you, you will be fine.

  • Dress neatly, spit our gum out, turn your cell phone off, say yes and no ma’am or sir (or your honor), speak when spoken to, no cursing or slang.
  • Keep emotions (towards everyone – even your co-parent) under control. It’s not like Judge Judy in that there is value in shock or spectacle. Judges really don’t like to have to diffuse ridiculousness in a plaintiff or a defendant. And odds are, if you’re acting a fool in their courtroom, they are likely to believe that this is an indication of your character and will take that into account when making a ruling.
  • Between court dates, do everything the judge tells you to do, to the letter. Conversely, make sure everything you need or want is in writing and has gone through a judge. Ask for clarification from the judge if you need it – respectfully and within the rules of the courtroom.
  • If you screw up and get called out in court (you forgot to file something, you didn’t give the other parent 30 day notice, you missed a court date), admit your mistake, give a reason (not excuses) if there is one and explain how you have or will remedy the reason and correct the mistake

Keep Your Court Case Organized

If you’re going to keep all that paperwork and all of those forms, and track court dates and who filed what, you’re going to need a bullet proof way to keep organized. Here are some ideas :

Emails and Dates

  • Create automated email filters in your email client to filter all emails to and from your attorney or to and from your child’s parent. Use the filter to apply a tag to them or put them in a folder so that they are easily accessible.
  • Add all deadlines and court appearances to your calendar. If you use an electronic calendar, set reminders for a week prior to the date to make sure you have time to get prepared.

Paperwork and notes

  • Use a service such as evernote to organize your notes and documents electronically. This will make them searchable and accessible to you outside the courtroom. I like evernote in particular because between notebooks, tags, keyword searching and accessibility on different platforms, the organizational potential is infinite. You can email into your evernote account which means that you can forward your electronic phone bill into your evernote account along with any documents your attorney sends you and it will all be searchable by keyword – even the content of scanned images and pdfs. But alternatively, OneNote works equally well.
  • If you’re more the hardcopy type, follow your attorney’s example and use an accordion or expanding file or a file box or cart with wheels (affiliate links), if you have more than what will fit in an expanding file.
  • The result of your court appearance will be some action – either a judgement or a follow-up date. Take notes of the specifics with paper and pen (typing into your mobile device can be frowned upon in court). If you use evernote, you can snap a photo of or scan your notes and email it into your account later. Otherwise, you can stash the notes in your binder, expanding file or a file in your court cart.

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