Finding yourself standing for a judge in a Texas child custody case can be a nerve-wracking experience. For starters, there is something to be said for not standing on your turf in a place where you are comfortable. A courtroom may not be a completely hostile environment, but it will almost certainly be an unfamiliar environment for you. I'm willing to bet you would feel more comfortable and more at ease if you were able to stand in your living room rather than stand in front of a judge in person or even over a video link.
The next factor I could imagine why you would feel nervous to defend yourself in a child custody case is that the facts and circumstances of your case may not be all that favorable to you. If you are in the running for being the parent of the year, then you probably don't hear if your parenting skills in history go under the microscope. However, if you have aspects of your parenting life that you would rather not be heavily scrutinized, then a contentious child custody hearing or trial is probably not your idea of a good time.
The subject matter of a child custody case is nerve-wracking in and of itself. Family law cases are intensely personal by nature. In a bankruptcy or business dispute lawsuit, financial matters are discussed that are personal to you and your family. However, a family law case it's in two subject matter related to the most important thing in your life: your children. The risk of harming or even losing your relationship with your children over a family law case is enough to make even the bravest or courageous person at least somewhat uneasy.
Next, we have the family court judge to consider. Have you ever gone before a judge in any situation before? Most people have not before getting involved in a divorce or child custody case. I always tell people who have never seen a judge before that it is the sign of a life well LED that you've never had to be involved in the legal system. Rather, not having any experience with the judge in any regard is likely going to be something that makes you uncomfortable. I can even remember as a young attorney talking to certain judges and feeling like the judge was some combination of my high school principal and apparent.
With experience comes comfort and no longer feeling as uneasy in situations like that. However, I'm an attorney with 10 years of experience practicing law. You will be a parent with likely no experience practicing law and likely no experience going before a judge talking about the subject matter that is the most important to you in the world. If you weren't asking yourself questions about how to defend yourself in a child custody case at that stage, I think something may be wrong.
The question that I posed in today's title could take our blog post in two different directions. The first direction would be how you could adequately represent and defend your case in a child custody matter without an attorney. The second direction that I think our blog post today could proceed is how best to build a case for child custody-related matters. I think both are questions that are frequently asked, and therefore we will devote 1/2 of the blog to talking about how you could defend yourself without an attorney in a child custody case and how you could also build a case with the assistance of an attorney.
How to best represent yourself in a child custody case
In a way, this section of the blog post could be concise. My truthful opinion is that anytime you have a family law case that involves children, both parties need to be represented by an attorney. This means that if you were minding your own business and are suddenly served with paperwork from your child's mother regarding a child custody case that she is filed, your next step needs to be to look towards hiring an attorney.
Contrary to the belief of many, hiring a family law attorney Does not mean that you are going to be in debt up to your eyeballs, and it does not mean that your case is going to turn into a wrestling match as far as you and your child's Co-parent going at it over and over. Hiring a family law attorney to represent you in a child custody case is a lot like going out to buy a new car. Just about whatever budget you have, you can find an attorney to represent you. You may have to make concessions as far as where that attorney is located in our area, their level of experience, or even your preference for how you get along with the attorney. Still, for every budget, there is a lawyer out there.
The simple truth of the matter is that a family law case involving your child can turn on a dime. Even the most straightforward family law cases can change course rather quickly, and as a result, you will want to be prepared. Suppose that you receive your Co-parent's initial documents in the child custody case and see that she is alleging that you have abused the child or used illegal drugs in front of the child. You may know that these assertions are not correct, but they are serious nonetheless and would require a judge to determine whether they are true. How would you respond to these sorts of accusations? Would you even know where to begin?
You may think that I'm exaggerating to prove my point, and in a way, I am- drug and child abuse accusations are not common in a child custody case. However, it is easy to be caught off guard by things within a child custody case. At the very least, you may be facing a situation where your Co-parent is asking for sole custody of your child or is presenting a case that she should hold all of the major rights and duties about your child, including the right to receive child support and the right to determine the primary residence of your child.
This is a prevalent request made in petitions for more child custody cases. You need to know how to respond appropriately to one and present your offensive cases as far as making points for yourself and requesting relief from the court. Most people are ill-equipped to do so, and as a result, I recommend having an attorney by your side in a child custody case.
However, if it is your preference and not represented, you should begin by doing as much research on the subject as possible. Reading blog posts like this one is a great start, but I will not go into every specific detail of a child custody case sufficient for you to know as much information as is needed to proceed with your case. You should contact the court clerk where your case has been filed to learn as much as you need to about the next steps in the process. That clerk will do their best not to give you legal advice and not even guide you about what documents need to be filed. However, you can perform a Google search and learn about the basic steps of a child custody case and figure out what document needs to be filed in response to an original petition.
If I reviewed and were representing myself in a child custody case, I would contact the opposing attorney and do my best to learn about what would be needed to settle the case as quickly as possible. However, this does not mean that you should accept any offer made by your co-parent to avoid conflict or reduce the time spent on the case. The things you decide in a child custody case may come back to haunt you years later, and you do not want to put yourself in a situation where a spur-of-moment decision can cost you as far as your relationship with your child.
Many attorneys will not give the time of day to a party who is not represented him or herself. You may find that the attorney representing your Co-parent is unwilling to discuss matters with you outside of court or outside of mediation. Mediation may be the best direction for your case to proceed. Mediation is a process where a third-party attorney offers to step in and help settle your case. You and the other attorney would technically be able to agree to a mediator mutually. Still, without knowing any mediators in the family law field, you would be buying upon the other attorney to decide on the appropriate mediator for your case.
A mediator will not be able to give you legal advice. I can give you context information about your case based on their experience and the judge to whom your case has been assigned. A mediator can help you make settlement offers by allowing you to brainstorm with them to arrive at equitable solutions. With that being said, nothing takes the place of representation by an experienced family law attorney.
If at all possible, hire an attorney to represent your interests in a family law case. Keep in mind that you have other commitments outside of your family law case that will require your attention during this time. Having the time and opportunity to devote yourself to representing your interests in a child custody case in addition to doing all the other things that are inherent to being a parent, employee for a small business owner is a lot to ask. An attorney will not make decisions for you, but an attorney can help guide you through the child custody process so you will be able to make decisions that are not only more efficient but are more beneficial for you both in the short and long term.
Responding to a child custody case and stating a case of your own
When we talk about defending yourself in a child custody case, my mind immediately goes towards what you would do if you were served with a lawsuit and then had to respond to it. As such, the first responsibility that you would have after hiring an attorney would be to file an answer and possibly file a counter-petition in response to the original petition filed by your Co-parent.
If you were to take my advice and hire an attorney will largely be the one to keep track of a timeline to make sure that you are meeting deadlines and filing documents in the appropriate length of time. However, you are ultimately responsible for your case. Therefore, you should learn as much about the process, its timelines, and any deadlines for filing documents or other things as early as possible from your attorney. You must file an answer within 20 days of being served with an original petition in the child custody case.
Once you have filed your answer, you will be able to proceed with the case can be alerted of any deadlines or upcoming hearing dates. You and your attorney should review the filings by your Co-parent to determine what they are alleging and what they are trying to accomplish. Sometimes the actual goals of a party are discerned from looking at the documents that were filed. In this case, you should have your attorney call the opposing lawyer to determine whether or not there is a chance to settle your case rather than proceed to a temporary orders hearing or trial.
Most family law cases in Texas settle rather than go to a contested hearing for trials. Especially in a child custody case, where the issues are limited only to your children, there is usually a great deal of middle ground that can be reached on subjects related to your case. While you and your Co-parent are ultimately the persons who will decide whether or not to accept settlement offers, the reality of the situation is that your attorneys will act as the go-between and intermediaries to communicate offers and counteroffers that you all are making.
When presenting your case or stating this strong sense of your case, you can utilize both the law and your specific circumstances to do so. A practicing family law attorney will tell you that family law quartz makes decisions based almost as much, if not more so, on your case's specific facts and circumstances as they do base on the law. Family court judges are given great discretion to make decisions based on their judgment and experience while applying basic concepts and family law.
For this reason, I would make known to my attorney, if I were you, any circumstances that relate to your ability to serve the best interests of your children. This is the exact standard that a judge would utilize your case or your case to reach the courts. How do your parenting skills in history allow your child's best interest to be served to call their emotional and physical well being, their ability to build a relationship with both parents, the benefits of living in your household as well as the outlets you offer as far as extracurricular activities and ability to build relationships with extended family. These are just a few of the factors that a judge will consider in determining the outcome of your case.
Since you and your lawyer know ahead of time the basic factors that a judge would live to determine the best interest of your child, that is where I would start building your case from. What experience and skills do you offer over and above that of your coherence for you to be named as the parent who can make decisions for your child and house your child for a significant portion of their time. If there are aspects of your Co-parent's life that you think demand scrutiny, you should also mention those two to your attorney. While it is not common for drug testing or alcohol testing to be a part of a child custody case, these are components to some cases when these issues become relevant.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post. Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about newer specific circumstances and how the law in Texas would impact you and your family in a potential child custody or divorce case.