This article is a re-post from 6-17-11.
It’s a scary prospect to have to trial. A custody trial is even more frightening. There is the fear of losing your children forever. Not to mention that people tend to interpret deeper meanings into every word and action their opponent says or does. Try to keep calm, cool and collected. It is too important to get all hysterical. Remember judges want you to leave emotions at home. They probably have no idea how impossible that seems to a parent when that parent is judged on their every word or action. If you have a clear head and can calmly state your case, you have the best chance at being heard. Also, make sure that your lawyer has heard you and what it is you are trying to make the judge understand.
The main objective has to be why you having sole custody is the best outcome for your children. I have seen too many court documents that scream out the main message, “I hate my ex, my ex is to blame, my ex is psycho, my ex is a bad person.” While all of those things may be true, the court assumes (here in MN) that joint custody is the best outcome for children and that your are equal as parents. “Bull!”, you say? “They like my ex better and favor him all the time!”, you say? That may be because they have watched your ex stay focused on what he/she wants the outcome to be. Maybe, outside of court, your ex has pushed all the right buttons so that when you are in front of the judge, you are steaming, so much so that the court can actually see steam coming out of your ears, ok, not so dramatic, but hopefully you get what I’m saying. Trust me. I know all about this. Prior to any court proceedings that took place in the early stages of my divorce, my ex would call and harass me the day and/or evening before. I allowed him to put doubt in my mind. I allowed him to turn my focus on my hatred for him, rather than what was the main reason for the hearing. What happens if you allow that is you show up in court exhausted and defeated, with hatred seeping out of your pores. You hate everyone the minute your ex shows up. Your ex on the other hand, looks calm, cool and collected. He/she reacts to nothing. You, on the other hand, react to EVERYTHING. Of course, judges aren’t stupid, they can read your body language. Lawyers aren’t stupid either and if your ex has an aggressive lawyer, they may do their best to get a reaction out of you that will make the judge see your worst side. If that happens, that makes an impression that is hard to overcome. This is why you must direct your focus back on you. Do not worry about your ex. Ignore him/her as best you can. Stay focused on your needs and your children’s needs. Trust that if your ex is the creep he/she appears to be, they will not be able to contain that forever.
What are some ways to stay focused? I would suggest much venting to friends and family. Try to get all the anger and frustration out to those people so that you aren’t allowing it to build up to a level that you can’t control. Take a hot bath, get a massage, have a glass of wine (but do not overindulge, this is a dangerous time to fall victim to an addiction as a means to escape!). Watch a movie, listen to music that makes you feel happy, write a letter of what you’d like to tell your ex or the judge, reread it and then shred it! Never leave anything like that around where it could get into the wrong hands or your children see it. Do not knee jerk react if a parenting consultant, expediter, or Guardian ad Litem calls you. Take a breather and call them later or the next day. Maybe talk to a friend first about how upset it makes you when you get those calls from court authorities. Carve out time for you. Make the weekends belong to you. Say, “these are mine and I will not waste them on foolishness!” If you receive a call from your lawyer or a court authority, unless it is a very urgent matter, it is ok to wait until Monday to call them back. Most likely nothing can be done on the weekend and for all they know, you went out of town for the weekend. They really don’t need to know why you didn’t call back sooner.
Now what to do in court? Take something along that makes you feel better, something you can touch, or look at when you start to get upset. Take a legal pad and pen. That way, you can write a note to your lawyer and he can glance at it without the judge noticing. Judges do notice dirty looks or hand gestures and when I went though it my lawyer said, “No reactions. Not one.” At one time I was upset listening to our Parenting Consultant. She was testifying that it was her opinion that I didn’t love my children! I wrote on my note pad that I had been using to communicate things to my lawyer, E—n A—-t lives in fantasy land. I wrote it to myself. My lawyer saw it and agreed with a light nod. Some people might say bring a picture of your kids. I think that comes off as “acting” to the judge, but if that is what you really want, can you wear a locket so it is not so obvious? Maybe take a wallet size photo a few pages down on your legal pad so it looks like you are looking for a note? Remember, this is just for you, to make you feel comforted. These things are not for anyone else to notice. Things that I took with me were an email from a very special man I’d met that was very sweet and gave me hope for a better future. I kept that in my legal pad so that I could lift up the paper periodically and feel the happiness of that email. I also had a necklace I wore all the time to make me not miss my kids so much. It was a gold heart (mine) with 2 smaller silver hearts inside (my 2 boys). I would touch it to bring my anxiety down if it started increasing. This made me think it’s me and my boys and no one will change that. I also had bought a couple of key chains and connected them to the key ring I already had. One said, God doesn’t close one door without opening another, and the other said, with God all things are possible. The keys were on the table for me to glance at anytime I needed to. Just don’t play with them. Take notes if you feel like you need to be doing something. Anything you can think of that will make you feel peaceful, do this for yourself. You will not regret it. My suggestion is not to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend along, or a friend or parent. It is too tempting to make little gestures back and forth and you don’t know if they will have a reaction to something that will reflect badly on you. It’s best to go it alone. Your lawyer is there and if he/she is a good lawyer, they should be all you need for a good day in court.
One last thing I want to mention that I did. I never read my ex’s lawyer’s version of “findings of fact and conclusion of law”. This is what each side prepares to give to the judge for what their side would like the outcome to
be. The judge will choose which one fits their decision. To this day, over 5 years later, I never read the other side’s. I decided that I didn’t need to. My lawyer read it and I knew it would just be filled with outrageous accusations and negative things that would make me feel horrible and make me angry and afraid. There was nothing I was going to do about it anyway. We’d already prepared our case and our evidence and the rest was going to be up to the judge. The best thing I could do was make sure I had my act together so that I could present my best self. Also, if it helps you, behave as you would in a job interview. That is how I tried to look at it. You would not go in to a job interview and cry and scream and act desperate, shouting, “Give me a job, I desperately need it and that other person doesn’t deserve it! They are scum!”, would you? No, you would present your best self and play up your positives, downplay or not display the negatives and focus on the job you want (Custodial parent). Do no less than this for the court situation.
*image courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com