Top 5 Ways to Succeed in Court in a Divorce Case in Massachusetts
If you have to appear in court in a divorce case (or if you were the party to file a motion or request to set trial), you need to be prepared.
Here are the top five ways to secure the best outcome in a divorce case in Massachusetts:
- Settle your case without going in front of the judge! This option seems out-of-place since this list relates to how to achieve the best results in court, but in reality you will nearly always secure a more favorable (or at least certain) result negotiating out of court. It is very rare that a divorcing spouse gets everything they want if they argue their case in front of the probate and family court judge. Every divorce judge will tell you that it is almost always better to secure your own agreement without leaving a hugely important decision up to a person that has no familiarity with you, your children or your real circumstances. Motions are brought in divorce cases by pleadings (i.e. documents filed in court) and therefore the only “real” information the judge will likely have about you and your case comes in the form of a printed document. The judge will only look at you and listen to you or your attorney argue for a very short period of time.
- Be prepared. This may sound simple, but it’s not and there are a variety of ways to be prepared for a divorce hearing that may include a motion (usually a request for temporary orders), a case management conference, a trial setting conference, or trial. Each type of hearing requires a different set of preparations. For motions, make sure that you have provided the court with plenty of information about your position, supported by evidence. When you walk into court you will already have given the judge an excellent idea of what you want and why. Also, make a bullet-point list of your arguments. The court will usually give you about 5-10 minutes to argue your position, so use the time wisely as it goes quickly. For case management and trial setting conferences, make sure to read the list of action items the court requires of you before you appear for the hearing. This requires preparation weeks in advance of court. For trial, you should make sure you hire an attorney or have a very clear idea of how to file appropriate documents, subpoena witnesses and take testimony, how to properly cross-examine and how to present admissible evidence for your case.
- Dress professionally, but not too well. It is important to show respect to the family court judge that will be deciding your fate if you don’t reach an agreement ahead of time. You do not want to appear as if you don’t care what happens, which is exactly how the judge will perceive you if you are dressed like a slob in court. If you dress too well, it may appear as if you don’t really need support (if you are seeking support) or that you have plenty of money to pay support (if your spouse is seeking support). If you have children and custody is at issue, dress like a parent. That means if you have tattoos, for example, cover them.
- Don’t interrupt. One of the top complaints among family and probate judges is that attorneys and/or parties try and talk over each other during a hearing. Most judges promptly put a stop to that behavior if it occurs, but some don’t. The Court will allow you (in almost every case) to respond in time to the comments made by the other time. When the other side is speaking, you should be taking notes so that you have a list of issues that you can respond when it’s your turn to address the judge.
- Try to calm your nerves. Think about why you are there – it is about you and your children. There is nothing to be nervous about (except for the outcome, which you don’t have any control over) and the judge hear many cases every day. Your case will just be one of a great number of different matters that the judge will hear in a particular day. When you are nervous you will tend to forget important facts and information. As mentioned above, create a bullet list of arguments that you can follow and this will help you calm your nerves and stay focused.
Serving Plymouth, Bristol County and all of Massachusetts. We are divorce and family law professionals with extensive litigation experience and we know how to succeed in court. If you have any questions, call us. We provide a free, private consultation where we can describe your options in simple language.