Opening Statements in Child Custody Trials

Child custody trials can be very challenging experiences for every individual Lawyer-Justice-Scales-226x300involved. After all, they require the court to consider the best interests of a child when moving forward after a divorce case. An important element to remember is that while many professional techniques are used during a child custody battle, no-one really “wins”. Instead, the best arrangement will be suggested based on the unique needs of the child, and the ability of a parent to provide the healthiest upbringing for that child.  It is very much preferred for parents to be able to make agreements as to what the custody and parenting time arrangements for their children will be.  Trials build the animosity between the parties and thereby are harmful to the children.  That being said, custody hearings and trials happen as people involved in a custody battle sometimes cannot or will not settle.

Opening statements represent the start of a custody trial.  Often times custody lawyers choose to waive opening statements as the trier of fact in the case is a judge (there are no jury custody trials in New York), not a jury, and the judge most likely would rather proceed to the testimony rather than hearing opening statements.  Opening statements are not evidence so a judge might actually appreciate the first witness being called who can provide evidence by their testimony, rather than hearing the musings of the child custody attorneys. 

But, at times, opening statements might be deemed to be appropriate.  They provide or divorce lawyers with the opportunity to engage the judge with the details of the specific case. In New York Courts, the “petitioning” party will be asked to give their opening statement first, followed by the responding party. In some cases, there will be an attorney for the children present who will also have their chance to make a statement. While as mentioned it is possible to choose to “waive” the right for an opening statement, it’s worth noting that some judges might believe that failing to speak, or choosing not to speak can speak for itself (child custody lawyers should get to know the specific judge and their preferences). After all, opening statements are not parts of the court argument. Instead, they’re an introduction, body, and conclusion that outline what will be brought about in the case, and a discussion of the disputes in question.

How Opening Statements Work in Child Custody Trials

The purpose of an opening statement in a child custody trial is to introduce the case to the judge and tell them about the case they’re going to be hearing. The opening statement will outline the facts that will be proved by evidence, and it should not be argumentative. An opening statement isn’t a place to comment on the credibility of the other side, or appeal to prejudice, instead, it’s a place to present the facts of the case.

While the relaying of facts can be slanted in the favor of a specific party, all of the information revealed must remain truthful. Opening statements do not allow for the asking of questions, or saying inflammatory statements. Instead, they allow child custody lawyers or divorce attorneys to discuss the facts of your case without exaggeration or drama. It’s important that a discussion of the law, or arguments are avoided during an opening statement.

The Structure and Style of Opening Statements

When a divorce attorney or child custody lawyer is asked to present an opening statement, they should make sure that the statement includes an introduction, body, and a discussion of disputes and weaknesses, as well as a conclusion. Each opening statement should be approached with an air of calm confidence, which allows the custody lawyer to provide statements that make it easier for the judge to understand the nature of the case. The opening statement will allow you to present a clear picture of the case at hand, during a complete and uninterrupted story of the events in place. Additionally, an opening statement can arouse the interest and engagement of the judge.

In some cases, opening statements during child custody cases can be used to build rapport with the judge. After all, if the judge likes someone that can be beneficial in any case – regardless of whether you’re fighting for child custody and visitation, or anything else. A good opening statement should be polite, featuring terms like “please” and “thank you”. If the divorce lawyer or child custody attorney in question is able to outline his true belief in the client’s situation, or show the client in a good light, then it can humanize that individual, and make it easier for the judge to err on his or her side.

Covering the Points in an Introductory Statement

A child custody opening statement helps to identify the disputes that will be outlined during the case – if the child custody lawyer believes that particular court room would welcome an opening statement. By stating the claims and disputes of a case in clear language, it’s possible to engage the judge, and begin to bring her or him into your view of the story during a child custody proceeding. This might be helpful in maintaining the interest of the judge throughout the case, and helping them to see different elements from different points of view.

Sometimes, child custody lawyers will even outline the weaknesses in their own client’s cases during the opening statement to make the client look honest, lessen the impact when an opponent brings those issues up, and highlight the client in the most positive light possible. Of course, it’s important to keep sections such as these as short as possible. The more powerful an opening statement is, the stronger the foundation on which the presentation of a client’s case can be built.

To learn more about opening statements, child custody cases, and other issues of family law, browse our blog posts, or contact me today via our online form, or over the telephone at 516-333-6555 to schedule your initial appointment, up to a half hour of which is free of charge.