Whether you are single, married, separated or divorced, financial planning is always a must. Whether you live in Howard County or elsewhere throughout the State of Maryland, financial planning is a reality for all of us.
- Stay calm. Don't show that you are upset. Don't try to use your acting skills. It doesn't work and just annoys the judge. Tone it down.
- Do not talk to your attorney during the hearing. Everyone will miss something. Always bring a pad to write down whatever you need to tell your attorney at trial. Don't even whisper.
- Answer the question asked. That is on direct and cross. Do not over think the question, but do not answer beyond the question. Wait for the next question.
- Do not argue with opposing counsel. This can be tough. Remember, we attorneys know how to throw you off. If you start arguing with us, we can turn it to our advantage against you.
- Take three seconds before answering questions. It's important for you to think about the question before answering it. Many times, clients believe they know what is about to be asked and will either answer before the question is done. Take a breath. Don't be obvious about it.
- Remember why you are there. It's important to know what the goal of the hearing is.
- Courtrooms are generally public. You should be prepared to testify about very personal matters in front of others. Once you are on the stand, you will forget about them.
- Be prepared to try to settle the matter at the last minute, even if you are totally geared up for a trial. Many times, judges and masters will suggest that the parties take some time to talk about settlement. Sometimes, judges/masters will ask the attorneys to chambers to discuss settlement before the hearing.
- Speak clearly. Do not nod or say "uh huh" in answer to questions. You want the Court to understand exactly what you are saying.
- Remember to get enough rest, eat breakfast, take medications, etc. Clients should not put themselves at a disadvantage by not taking care of themselves. Hearings and trials can be marathons.
Risk if part of life. Risk and divorce often go hand in hand. Risk creates stress. Risk creates uncertainty. Regardless of where in Maryland your divorce will be: Howard County, Montgomery County, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll or elsewhere, risk is why you need a highly experienced divorce attorney on your side.
- If allowed, attend the custody evaluation intake with your client. This will give you valuable information about how your client does "in action" to prepare him/her to present their "best" self in the evaluation and interview with the assigned evaluator.
- Explain the court evaluation process to your client in detail - timing, logistics, who contacts who. Even if explained during the intake process, it's all martian to the client, especially if this is your client's first ever trip to court.
- Make sure your client understands that the evaluation is not confidential. Nothing the client says (or you or anyone else for that matter) is "off the record".
- Prepare your client before the client's interview with the evaluator. Talk your client through the types of questions the evaluator is likely to ask (for example, strengths/weaknesses of each parent; concerns about the other's parenting; what schedule/legal custody the client is asking for - and the client understands the implications of the different types of custody) and work with your client to keep the answers child-focused.
- Before the client's interview, talk honestly with your client about his/her warts. Work with the client on how to acknowledge, frame, and explain to the evaluator what the warts are and what the client is doing/has done to address them. The court and evaluators are usually big on redemption, not on parents who try to "hide the pea" (which usually backfires).
- Prepare your client before the home observation. Your client should understand that this is an observation and the evaluator will not direct the visit. The client should have a plan for the structure of the visit (all the while making it appear completely organic) - a tour of the house (given by the client? the child(ren)?), an activity with the child(ren) (other than just watching TV or ignoring each other) that engages the parent and child(ren) together, balanced by the child's routine to avoid feeling completely staged. A clean home helps.
- If your client is/has been under the care of a mental health professional, educate your client about his/her privilege, the effect of waiver, and have a plan about whether or not the client will sign a waiver for the evaluator (and so the rest of the world) to talk with the professional. If the client is not going to waive, help the client understand how the evaluator may draw a negative inference from this and work with the client on a thoughtful explanation about why the client is not waiving privilege. You should get a waiver so you can talk with your client's therapist so you can fully advise your client. (Likewise, if your client has been involved in a CPS investigation, have a plan for whether your client will sign an authorization for the evaluator to review the file.)
- Work with the client on tone and how to keep the tone consistent with the client's custody goals. For example, if your client wants joint legal and physical custody, avoid endlessly badmouthing the other parent. Be mindful when coming up with strengths and weaknesses for each parent about how balanced these should be and how these reflect upon your client's custody goals. If the other parent has engaged in "bad acts", help the client frame how these affect the child(ren)'s welfare (and not just the client's, lest the client alienate the evaluator).
- Make sure your client can articulate a specific plan. Not every client has an ideal living arrangement or situation for the custody/access they seek. Your client can put him/herself in a better light by filling holes with a realistic, detailed plan supported by actual investigations.
- Get collateral witness names early, so you can vet collaterals before providing them to the evaluator.
The Maryland State Bar Association tries to post helpful "top 10" lists from time to time. This one caught my eye, because everyone struggles how to find a divorce attorney in Maryland, regardless of whether your case is in Howard County or elsewhere across the state.
Below are thoughts from the MSBA, and my thoughts on some of these appear afterwards, in bold.
From time to time, judges and magistrates in Howard County, Montgomery County and other jurisdictions will provide information to attorneys and litigants on certain topics.
I meet with several new clients each week. Each meeting is different. Some folks come to the office highly organized and ready to proceed. Others are not even sure if they want a divorce (divorce attorneys always know the best and worst marital counselors). Some come in, highly emotional, because their spouse is dictating the divorce.
It is more than difficult to find a divorce attorney who is right for you. First and foremost, the attorney must be competent. Second, they must understand the inclinations of the judges in the jurisdiction where a divorce trial may occur. Third, they need to understand custody, when that is relevant. Finally, and not to be understated, they must understand money.
The pro's and cons of whether to fight to keep the house upon divorce are challenging to say the least. It involves emotion, financial planning, and quite often, thinking about what is best for the children.
Let's play some divorce "yes" or "no." Based on your answer, you will know what to do.