If you are a party to a highly contested child custody dispute, you, your lifestyle, and your choices may soon be subject to scrutiny by the opposing party. Whether their allegations are truth or fiction or a combination, you will want to consider following these tips to mimize any potential damage to your case.
Rule No. 1: Do Tell Your Attorney EVERYTHING, The Good, The Bad, & The Very Worst
If you ignore all of my other rules, please do not ignore this one. As your attorney, I must know all of the evidence and potential evidence that looms out there. That means you must tell me the most awful thing that your Ex will say about you, whether it is true or false. No matter how insignificant you may think that bad fact is, it may be the fact that the court finds the most significant in determining what is in your child's best interest. And if I don't know that fact is coming, I can't be prepared to defend it.
As your attorney, my job is to present you and your case to the court while observing the rules (e.g. evidentiary law, procedural law, ethical rules, etc.). I seek to use these rules to our advantage and part of my job as a trial attorney is to prevent the opposing party from introducing evidence that is contrary to the same rules. To do this effectively, I must know all bad facts and false allegations before I get into the courtroom.
Why? There may be a legal rule that excludes the bad fact from being admitted into evidence or there may be additonal evidence out there via a witness or document that I can present to soften the blow of the damaging evidence. If I don't know the bad fact, I can't decide how to use it, attempt to omit it, argue the different grounds to object to it, and frame it another way for your benefit. Factual omissions such as these only cheating you out of effective lawyering so be wise and tell me everything.
Rule No. 2: Don't Post on Social Media Things That Could Be Used Against You
Social media is a huge part of people's lives today. So it isn't surprising that parties to child custody disputes often use as evidence, photographs, posts, and other digital material taken from social media sites. You may think that your facebook page does not have any incriminating material, however, you never know how the opposing party will spin the information, so be very careful what you put out in cyberspace.
Your Ex files for primary physical custody of your minor child claiming that you are not the best parent to maintain primary physical custody due to your daily pot usage. This allegation may or may not have merit, regardless, you recent posts declaring your strongly held political belief about why North Carolina (or your resident State) should legalize marijuana will only make matters worse. Of course, this isn't definitive proof of your pot usage or lifestyle, but it doesn't help your attorney deflect the allegations.
Your Ex claims that your party lifestyle isn't conducive to child rearing and asks the Court that you only have supervised visitation with your minor child. Even if these are false allegations, now is not the time to upload selfies from that bachelor(ette) party you attended in Vegas or posts from your local watering hole. Do not post photos from that weekend you and your college buddy went to that brewery to drink one of every single beer they serve to get your name on the beer hall of fame plaque that hangs over the bar.
Do not post pictures of you and your new "secret" boyfriend or girlfriend that is not a secret anymore. My point is made here.
Assume that the content on your social media page is visible to the opposing party because it may very well be. It is also wise to manage your share settings so that you can potentially prevent the opposing party from reaching your page through other people. Also, review your tag settings to prevent your friends from tagging you in events that you may or may not be involved in.
I know this is restrictive on your fundamental freedoms but your children are worth it. I know it is very silly to have to manage your public internet persona. In highly contested child custody matters, emotions and stress can cause bad behavior and people blow everyday life way out of proportion. All of a sudden, behaviors that you and your Ex once did together are "damaging to the children." So just don't give the opposing party anything more to support their position.
If there is something out there in cyberspace that you are nervous about being plastered all over the courtroom, observe Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 3 Don't Start Dating Someone New, Now Isn't the Time
Again, timing is everything. And now isn't the time to start a new dating relationship. This will only complicate your legal matter because instead of focusing your case on you and your relationship with your children, we now have to consider this new person in your life and how they fit into the picture, relate to you, to your children, etc.
Do you know them well enough to rule them out as a potential partner? Do they have any bad facts in their lives that will be imputed onto you? Is their lifestyle conducive to child rearing? Do they have a criminal record or substance abuse problem that you are unaware of?
Even if there are no "bad facts" associated with your new potential romance, a new partner entering the picture at the wrong time can escalate your legal dispute and make things infinitely worse. Oftentimes the opposing party may experience fear or discomfort about the new potential partner's involvment in the children's lives. Or your Ex may not have resolved his or her feelings about the ending of your relationship. Regardless, your new potential love could very well negatively affect your chances of reaching an amicable settlement that ends the child custody dispute altogether. And you want the opportunity to settle. If you don't now, you will when you get further along in the legal process.
And please tell your attorney if there is documented history of your recent dating history via social media or online dating avenues. Not that this is bad or damaging to your case, just so your attorney can be prepared.
If you are already in a relationship then provide that information to your attorney via Rule No. 1.
More information to come in "Do's and Don'ts," Part II.