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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Hildebrand

What to Expect in a Family Law case

When you enter into the legal system for a family law case, whether is a divorce proceeding, a CHINS case, or the establishment of paternity, it can be a very scary situation for most people

This an extremely difficult time in your life, as well as your children's. Everyone's stress levels are high. People are fearful of losing their children, of suffering financial setbacks, about how much child support will have to be paid, and how bills will be paid during a transition time.

During this time, you may seek legal representation. While we acknowledge that as a law firm, we would love to have your business, even if you do not choose our firms, we still recommend legal representation when your children are involved. This is also regardless of how amicable you believe the situation will be. The reasons for this include:

  • Navigating the legal system in a family law case can be very difficult. There are many legal terms, procedures, laws, and quirks that an attorney can help you understand that you will not understand when proceeding on your own

  • Even if you and the other party are in agreement, putting together a Marital Settlement Agreement or a Paternity Agreement requires that you are aware of the terms that need to be included in any agreement. You also need to make sure that the agreement is not too vague so that it may lead to conflict in the future

  • Many lay people believe they know the law and how things should go. However, way too often, people are wrong. And there is nothing wrong with that. I am a lawyer but I do not know much about the medical field and see a doctor when I need medical assistance. It is better to go get advice from a professional than proceed under wrong assumptions. This can save you a lot of money and problems in the long run.

  • If you make a mistake, the costs can be great, and I am not talking about financial. I am talking about your rights to your children. If you are faced with a contested custody situation, you should immediately seek legal representation, or at least a consultation to discuss your situation and get some advice. The initial hearing in a divorce case, paternity case, and a CHINS case can dramatically impact the future and long term custody orders from these same courts. It is best to start out in the best position you can, rather than try to recover from a difficult start.

When seeking representation in these types of cases, it is important to:

  • Openly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case. You need to be open and honest with the attorney. Keep in mind that when you attend the hearing, it is much better for your attorney to be prepared for something than to be caught off-guard and not have prepared a response, or even to address it first.

  • Ask questions of the potential representation. It is best to have an idea of how the attorney plans to approach your case before retaining her or him, than after.

  • Get a feel for the personality of the attorney and how that will work with your personality. Sometimes people just do not work well together. That does not mean there is anything wrong with either of you, it is just a difference in your personalities.

  • Understand that some attorneys want to go to court all the time while many others try to seek amicable resolution to conflict. Again, this does not mean one style is better than the other (although I will point out that our local rules do require an attempt to resolve contested issues prior to a hearing on them).

  • Remember that you do not have to hire the first attorney you speak with. Keeping all of the previous points in mind, if you do not feel comfortable with the attorney that you are interviewing, then you can still look around for someone that works better for you. However, also keep in mind that just because you do not like what the attorney is telling you about your case, does not mean that he or she is wrong.

When you do retain counsel, it is important to understand that your attorney can only do so much. You need to keep your expectations reasonable and avoid being to demanding. Things to consider include:

  • Litigation in family law cases can take more time than you expect. Most people go into these cases wanting immediate results. However, this is generally not what happens. The waiting period for a divorce case is sixty (60) days. This means that the earliest you can be divorced is sixty (60) days after filing. It generally takes much longer, especially in cases where this is a dispute over custody of the children. These cases can go on for a year, and sometimes much longer.

  • When you go to a hearing, while you have so much information that you want to share with the judge, there is often only a limited time to speak to the judge. Some of the information, while you would like it to be, is not relevant for the judge to make a decision. Sometimes the Rules of Evidence preclude the information that you would like to share. Therefore, if your attorney does not present evidence or information that you would have liked admitted, please keep in mind there is likely a reason for this. It is best to ask the attorney respectfully later, if you wish to, why certain information was not presented.

  • The judge does not know you or the opposing party. They only know what has been writing in the pleadings and what they see and hear in court. You and the opposing party have known each other for years, but the judge has not. When you do not understand why the judge may have ruled the way he or she has, please keep in mind that the judge's decision was again only based upon the information presented. It does not make it right, but it needs to be understood in the context of the hearing. This is why having an attorney at the beginning can be so important.

  • That there are procedures that need to be followed. You may want to have something changed immediately but the way the legal system moves, it may not happen for some time. For example, if you lose your job and have a child support obligation, we cannot immediately solve the child support issue. A motion with the court needs to be filed; then a hearing date scheduled and attended. There may be questions from the court on why you are not currently working. If you quit without cause, there is a good chance the judge will not modify your child support. If you have found a new job in the meantime, there will not be a modification. If the judge does modify your child support, the order will likely not to have taken place for at least a month, more likely much longer after you have lost your job based upon the process. This is not something that your attorney can do overnight.

  • Treat your attorney with respect. Often times your attorney is doing the best for you in any given circumstances. They cannot control what the other party does. They cannot control what the other party does with the children while in his or her care. All they can do is reach out to the other parent's attorney and discuss the situation. Even if the attorneys are both on the same page, again, no one can control what the other parent does. And not everything can be taken to court. If you do not like the video games the other parent is letting your children play, neither attorney has the power to make that parent make the responsible choice. If you are going through a custody battle, this is something that can be discussed in mediation or at a contested hearing. However, the attorney cannot just run to the court on your behalf for every little issue.

  • If you do not approve of how your attorney is handling your case, you have options. First, discuss your concerns with the attorney in a calm and rational manner. If you start making accusations or being disrespectful, you are unlikely to get anywhere with your concerns. Attorneys are humans too and do not have to tolerate aggressive behavior from clients. (as a client, you also should not tolerate aggressive behavior towards you from an attorney). Second, if you do not feel that your concerns are being properly addressed, you have the right to seek alternative counsel. You may schedule a consultation with another attorney. You may find out that your current attorney is doing what they can given the situation, or you may find out another attorney would handle things differently. And again, just because another attorney would take a different approach does not mean the first one was wrong. It could just be a different way they like to handle cases. You have the right to change attorneys even in the middle of a case.

As you proceed through the legal system, please remember there are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be times when things are going in your favor and times when it is not. If you start out with a bad initial ruling, remember there is time to turn that around. I have been involved in cases where the judge initially ordered supervised parenting time for a parent that was later awarded joint physical custody. I have seen cases where one parent is awarded primary custody initially, and later the other parent ends up with custody. These cases can take time to work through. Your cooperation, patience, and honesty are critical to assist your attorney to help win your case.

Here at Hildebrand Law Office, we do our best to help you through this time. We listen to your requests and expectations. And we do what we can to help your case and to meet your expectations. However, we do ask that our clients remain aware that the litigation in these matters can take much longer than you would like and there are times things do not go the way your wanted it to. If you remain patient, honest, respectful, and cooperative, we can get you through this tough time and make sure you and your children end up with the best possible result.

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