Clients often ask us what documents they should provide to our office or bring to court. If you are wondering if something may be relevant or may be necessary for your lawyer to review or consider, it is probably best to bring it to your lawyer! You’re better off bringing too much documentation and allowing your lawyer to help you pare it down than you are to never tell your lawyer that certain helpful or beneficial documents exist. Often, when we find out that clients had a valuable document, we regret that they did not share it with us or often, even tell us of its existence. Learning and understanding whether a document is relevant or irrelevant will help you succeed in your family law case. Ideally, when you consult with a family law attorney, he or she should help you understand the necessity (and the reasons why) certain documents are needed by their office to represent you.
So what things should be submitted to the court?
Long before court, your lawyer should be outlining or preparing your position. Often this is shared through discovery responses, motions filed, responses to motions filed by the other party and/or through depositions. You can often help your lawyer and keep your costs down by beginning to outline or prepare a summary of your positions and arguments from the beginning of the case. Beyond your statements and arguments about your position on the case, one of the most valuable, persuasive things that we provide the judge in family court is evidence or documents that support our client’s position. This is because often, in a family situation, the two parties or litigants have very differing stories or recollection of history and even more often, there are no meaningful witnesses to what occurred behind the private walls of a home. What kind of evidence should you provide your lawyer to review and consider providing to the judge?
Here are a few things that have been helpful in some of our cases and depending on the circumstances of your case, may be helpful for your position. Ultimately, if you are unsure what you should provide, the best way to analyze your evidence and decide what is appropriate or needed for your case is through consultation with an experienced family law attorney. Thankfully, we have many clients who consult with us months or even years before they anticipate going through a contested family law matter and some clients have been able to meticulously maintain documentation of circumstances within their home based on the invaluable advice that we were able to provide months or years before it is needed. If you are reading this article and contemplating whether you need to obtain some advice about documenting and making sure your position/actions are confirmed through paperwork, it is almost certainly a wise idea to obtain a consultation!
Now, in a general sense, what should you consider maintaining?
- Phone Logs:
Particularly if you and the other parent are separated or spend long periods of time apart, keeping notes or documentation about the time of interactions, whether by cell phone, landline, video conference or through some other manner is likely to be helpful. The notes should generally include the date and time of the communication, how long it lasted, what method was used and anything noteworthy about the call/interaction, including if the child was happy, upset or had some other interaction. This information can be used for a variety of purposes but generally, in the right situations can show the effort by a custodial parent to facilitate and ensure a frequent and continuous relationship or can be used by a non-custodial parent to show that the other parent did not facilitate needed contact.
- Parenting and visitation schedules:
When preparing to go through or actively going through family law litigation, each parent should keep a visitation log or calendar indicating when parenting time occurs, how long visits last as well as any notes or comments that the child may have reported about the visit. If a parent is trying to get more parenting time or custody, this can be used to show the efforts that a parent has made to ensure that they have a frequent and continuing relationship with the child involved. A parent can also use a visitation calendar, at times to show a lack of regular contact by the other parent or even denied contact that has occurred. Whether you are seeing your children as much as you desire or wish for more time, logging and documenting the time that you are permitted to see your children will be helpful to your lawyer in your custody battle.
- Your Children’s Records:
Often keeping documentation of your children’s records is helpful in a child custody battle. Showing that children’s grades have been excellent or have declined is an important consideration for the court in determining custody. If your child has sustained injuries in the other parent’s care, if the other parent is showing up for medical, dental visits and school conferences, for example, are all considerations for the court in determining custody in the best interests of children. At the point that the case is ready to schedule and prepare for trial, it may be helpful to seek or obtain written statements from your children’s coaches, teachers at school or even friends, neighbors o relatives. Again, information documenting your involvement with your children is important, particularly in a situation where you say one thing and your ex says another.
- Custody or mental health evaluations:
In some difficult cases, the judge might order or the guardian ad litem may recommend/request a child custody or mental health evaluation. This will allow a specialized and trained professional to provide the court with some input as to custody decisions.
Whether you are seeking to protect your custody/relationship with your child or seeking to obtain more parenting time or even seeking to prevent the other parent from having significant contract with the children due to concerns of abuse or neglect, it is crucial to a favorable outcome that you obtain records needed to prove your position. If you want to further discuss being prepared for a child custody battle, call Pingel Family Law today to schedule your consultation at (816) 208-8130.