Custody cases can vary drastically from one situation to the next.
Some parents prefer to negotiate agreements on things like parenting time, visitation, and custody through a mediation session. In some instances, mediation can be a beneficial alternative to a court battle for both the parents involved in the case, and the children, as it reduces the need to expose youngsters to potentially stressful interviews with attorneys for the children or a judge.
However, not every case will be able to avoid a court battle. Sometimes, the only way to ensure the best interests of the children, and the parents are served, is to take the matter in front of a judge at a New York Supreme Court in the context of a divorce or family court. When a child custody case is taken into the court room, there are various stages involved in ensuring the judge, referee, or judicial hearing office can come to the right decision about the needs of the children.
Direct examination, wherein a child custody attorney questions their own witnesses during a deposition, trial, or hearing, can be one of the most valuable ways to present information and evidence to the court. However, effective direct examination is best done by a trained, experienced, and highly educated family law attorney. If someone is going to try to represent themselves, which is not ideal, but in the instances it is done, it is preferable to have the guidance of a legal consultant to help someone prepare for the case and trial.
So, what happens in instances where parents choose to represent themselves in a child custody case?
Handling Direct Examination During Self Representation
Cases related to child custody are some of the most complex and emotional in the family law landscape. After all, few things are more important to a parent than ensuring they can properly care for and see their children. That’s why most parents involved in a case related to child custody will benefit significantly from having access to an experienced family lawyer, capable of fighting for their best interests.
However, there are circumstances in which parents may choose to represent themselves in the family and supreme courts. While I would never recommend this option to anyone who reaches out to me for guidance, many choose to pursue self-representation regardless for financial or other reasons.
If, for any reason you do choose to handle your case without the representation of a professional family attorney, the most important thing you can do to improve your chances of success, is ensure you have access to the right support and guidance. That’s why I offer clients considering self-representation access to consulting services, to help guide them through difficult processes, such as direct examination in a child custody trial or hearing.
In a typical child custody case, an attorney would work to reveal as much valuable information as possible to the court, by asking witnesses specific questions. The answers to these questions can help to provide insights into the characteristics of each parent, and how either party in the case can support the best interests of the child or children.
In a case where a person chooses to represent themselves, there will not be an attorney available to ask pre-planned questions and ensure the right insights are revealed. This means the person who chooses to self-represent must instead carefully strategize how they’re going to bring certain facts to light for the court, by following the rules of evidence, laying proper foundation, and by not asking leading or irrelevant questions.
Can Consultation Help with Direct Examination Strategies?
For a parent in a child custody, parenting time, or visitation case, nothing is more valuable than having a family lawyer or attorney present within the court room to handle processes like direct examination. However, in the instance wherein a parent chooses, for any reason, to represent themselves, consulting with an attorney could be the next best thing.
Via direct consultation with a family law attorney, such as myself, indivduals involved in a child custody case can plan how to manage processes like direct examination in advance. Consultants can offer their insights into the kinds of questions which might be useful to ask in a direct examination, and what types of witness should be called.
For instance, common direct examination questions may include queries which discuss how a person currently cares for a child. A direct examination question may be something like “How does the child usually get to and from school?” or it could ask about a witness’s perception of a specific event, such as “Can you tell us what, if anything, you noticed about the child on that day?”
The questions asked in a direct examination may also be related to specific points within the case. For instance, if a parent is trying to argue for more parenting time, they might ask questions which highlight the child’s desire to spend more time with them (without calling for what the child actually said which would normally be inadmissible hearsay).
A consultant might offer advice on how to avoid asking “leading questions”, and highlight the relevance of each query in the context of the case. Clients may even be able to suggest questions they’d like to ask their witnesses to their consultants, and get feedback on how to improve the wording or adjust the style of the query.
Planning for Direct Examination in Child Custody Cases
In cases related to child custody and parenting time which end up being presented to the Supreme court, a direct examination can be an extremely important tool. Even if you’re not planning on using your own attorney in your case, there’s a good chance your partner will have an attorney of their own who asks witnesses questions as part of a direct examination. Keep in mind that witnesses get cross-examined too. Cross-examination will be the topic of a future blog.
Unfortunately, handling a direct examination can be extremely complicated for people who aren’t trained in the area of family law. It’s easy for questions to become emotionally charged, or be considered leading, which may mean they’re not allowed by the courts. That’s why it’s so important for anyone considering self-representation to ensure they plan their questions in advance.
If having a family law attorney perform a direct examination of witnesses on your behalf in a court case isn’t an option for you, consulting with a consultant lawyer could be a way to avoid making common and potentially disastrous mistakes.
If you would like to discuss your options regarding a child custody consultation, you can contact my office today for more insights into how I might be able to help. Consultations of up to 30 minutes are free.