After attempting to negotiate a settlement in your family law case you were unable to do so. Now, you and your attorney have met and planned how to best introduce, offer and admit evidence that goes towards proving the allegations of your case. You want to win your hearing. Your opposing party does as well. Whether yours is a child custody case or a divorce the stakes are high. While you know that your hearing is going to be important, and what will be a part of it (thanks to our blog from yesterday) you still don’t know much about what you can expect on the day of the hearing.
I always tell clients about temporary orders hearings this way: the preparation that goes into a hearing is like preparing for a play- all the lines are careful scripted and choreographed. Unfortunately for you, a hearing is more like a night at the improv- you don’t know what to expect and your attorney spends the entire time thinking on their feet. It is difficult to have to turn on a dime and experience your case changing before your eyes. This is the challenge of a temporary orders hearing.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we will be discussing the importance of knowing what to expect and how to conduct yourself in this setting. I am always hesitant to talk to grown people about how to conduct yourselves but I have learned through the years that it is nice to know what is going on ahead of time rather than having to figure out on the fly how you need to sit, speak and conduct yourself in general.
Be prepared to do some waiting
If you have ever been to the DMV, court or any other governmental setting then you already know to expect to wait a while before your hearing starts. This means that you cannot chat on your phone, make noise, eat food or do anything else that is either noisy or distracting to anyone else in the courtroom. There will be a bailiff walking around the courtroom and if they observe you doing anything like this you will have to talk to the judge about it.
Dressing for court is different than you may be used to. For instance, consider that you are going somewhere that will determine the future of your relationship with your children as well as the future of your property. Since you know how important the outcome of your hearing will be, consider putting your best foot forward in all things. Wearing a suit is never a bad idea for men or women. Jeans with no holes and a tucked in shirt/conservative blouse is not a bad option either.
What you should not do is wear the sort of clothing that you would see at a club, bar or anywhere else fun. Short skirts, bright colors, jewelry, high heels, or clothing with any vulgar words or messaging is completely inappropriate. If you have tattoos you have to cover them up the best, you can. Your hair should be an appropriate length, color and cut. Outlandish colors and styles can be a distraction for many judges.
Last, if you are not early you are late. Meaning: you need to get to court thirty minutes before the docket is called. Most dockets are called at 9:00 so that means you should aim to be in court at 8:30. Most of us who don’t live downtown will have to leave bright and early to make it down to the courthouse by this time. Plan accordingly. If transportation is going to be an issue for you, plan on lining up a few rides to the courthouse well in advance. That way if someone falls through on driving you, you will have a couple of alternative rides ready to go.
Here comes the judge- sit up straight!
The judge will typically walk into the courtroom from a door directly behind the bench. That is your cue to stand up immediately. The bailiff should instruct the gallery and attorneys to stand up as a show up respect. You will be told by the judge or bailiff when it is ok for you to sit down. Turn your cellphone off or at least to silent or vibrate. I have known some judges to have a rule that all cell-phones are to be confiscated if they ring during court. Those phones can stay with the judge all day and will be ready for pick up at 4:30 that afternoon.
Next, when your case is called, and you move forward to speak to the judge you should do so with respect. Remember that it is fine to speak to your attorney in a casual fashion, but it is not ok to speak to the judge in the same fashion. This is true even if the judge isn’t especially courteous to you. Do not speak over the judge. Wait until he or she is through asking a question before you answer.
Here is a bit of advice to those of you who have a tendency to roll your eyes, click your tongue or do anything else that could be perceived as being disrespectful if something doesn’t go your way (you know who you are). If you know you have a tendency to do even little things like this, you need to work on stifling yourself ahead of time. There will be times that the judge or the opposing counsel say things to you that will annoy and frustrate you. You cannot use that as an excuse to say something nasty under your breath or roll your eyes. That is dis respectful and can result in your being punished by the judge.
Why is this so important, you may be asking? The key thing to think about here is that the judge does not know you at all. He has not grown up with you, does not go to church with you and does not belong to the same bowling league. You may be the sweetest person on earth but if you spend your hearing rolling your eyes and muttering things under your breath at every word said by your spouse, that will not reflect highly upon you. You want to come off as credibly as possible to the judge and acting immaturely like this will only ad to your frustration.
The actual hearing itself
In Harris County, you will find that most judges ask that you, your opposing party and your attorneys approach the bench and will stand for your hearing. In smaller counties around Harris you and your attorney will be seated at a table with your opposing party and their lawyer at a table right next to yours. Once the judge speaks to the attorneys about what the roadmap for the hearing will look like, the judge will go on the record. That means that the hearing will be recorded for future reference and has officially begun.
Some judges prefer that the attorneys give opening statements, although this does not always happen in temporary orders hearings. Whichever party filed the lawsuit will go first in presenting their witnesses and introducing their evidence. Once your attorney calls and questions a witness the other side will be able to cross examine the witness. Any questions in response to the cross examination that your attorney may have (known as re-direct) can be asked. That witness will then be allowed to step down from the witness stand.
Once the first attorney has had an opportunity to call all their witnesses and introduce all of their documentary evidence, the other side has an opportunity to do the same exact process. When both parties have rested and have nothing further to present, the judge will go back and make a decision.
Typically, what happens is that the judge will step into their office, review the documents that were filed with the court prior to the hearing and will come back into the courtroom and recite their decisions orally so that the court reporter can record them. Those orders are not official until one of the attorneys takes them and drafts an order based on the rendition of those orders. This is similar to how a mediated settlement agreement is the basis for a temporary orders under other circumstances. Nothing is official and no orders are enforceable until an order is produced that is signed by the judge.
Once you have temporary orders in place there will be a (hopefully) more quiet time period that goes into effect until negotiations for final orders begin. Basically, you and the opposing party will live under those temporary orders to see how well you can adjust to them. You all may find that even though you agreed to settle your case on temporary orders, that there may be some elements of those orders that need to be adjusted for final orders. That is what you are trying to figure out in the weeks after a temporary orders hearing.
Discovering more about your opponent’s case
Next up, you and your opposing party will likely work to get information about one another through a process called Discovery. You and your opposing party will be working to get your hands-on information that will help you decide how to approach the issues that are relevant to your case in final orders. To do so, you would like to learn more about what information your spouse or opposing party has access to. Discovery allows you to do just that.
Taking an inventory of all the property that is relevant to your case is a good first step and is something that the other side will almost surely ask you for. This means that you should go through your home ahead of time and take photos of file cabinets, closets, the garage, bedrooms, drawers, gun safes, etc. to make sure that you document all the property that will need to be divided in your divorce. This is especially helpful in the event that you have to leave the house and move out. You don’t want to be in a situation where your spouse moves items or sells them without your permission.
You and your spouse will exchange your lists of property and you can get a better idea of what he or she believes to be in existence and what part of the property is their separate property, your separate property and what part is community property. Both assets and debts should be accounted for in an inventory. If you and your opposing party do not feel that it is necessary to do a full-fledged discovery search then this may be the only information that is exchanged.
Otherwise, you and your opposing party will do a more formal request for information with one another. In tomorrow’s blog post we will go through the different sorts of discovery requests that may be made in conjunction with your family law case.
Questions about your own family law situation? Please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we covered today then please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We work hard to provide you with information in blog format that can educate you about relevant topics in family law. However, these blogs cannot be taken as specific legal advice because we don’t represent you and certainly don’t know your exact circumstances.
With that said, to learn more about our office please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These conssultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and to receive honest feedback from attorneys who have helped people in our community who are facing the same circumstances that you are. Thank you for spending some time with us today and we hope that you will join us tomorrow, as well.