Checklist for Family Court Litigants: Initial Hearing.

  1. _____ Have a pen and a pad to write notes and questions to your attorney.
  2. _____ Be sure you have listened to your attorney and his staff carefully and told them the truth.
  3. _____ Don’t let your lawyer learn about that DUI, drug bust, or domestic battery conviction from the other side. No, “I didn’t think you needed to know that.” Stop! We do need that!
  4. _____ “Proffer” = “offer of proof” **. Your lawyer is going to give the Judge a concise (short) statement of the issues in the case and what you think the evidence will show. Think 2-5 minutes. That’s all you will have!
  5. _____ Do not “puff” your case or leave out key facts; that will later burn you.
  7. _____ Sit up straight! Don’t fawn or cower but say “Sir” and “Ma’am”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” You are fighting for your child/ren and your future. Don’t screw it up.
  8. _____ DO NOT react to what you hear or be shocked if the other side slants or hides the truth. (It’s “par” for the course.)
  9. _____ This is important: scowls, snickers, head shakes, and eye rolls are seen by the Court and recorded for posterity. Sit quietly and respectfully.
  10. _____ If your lawyer or the other side misspeaks, write a concise, legible response, and DISCRETELY nudge your lawyer or just slide the pad over to him.
  11. _____ Don’t feverishly write “War and Peace” or sigh, or yawn. Look attentive, not hyper!
  12. _____ Don’t “stage whisper”. If your lawyer leans over to whisper a question, answer discretely and beyond the Court’s hearing, behind a cupped hand. “Stage whispers” make you look like an idiot and may “tip your hand” to the other side.
  13. _____ Because of the Pandemic, you may appear remotely; regardless, DO NOT SPEAK UNLESS SPOKEN TO OR ARE ASKED A QUESTION.
  14. _____ During the initial hearing, remember that you may have two kinds of questions, ones you want to remember to ask immediately after the hearing, and ones you are asking in real time.
  15. _____ Keep them separate and send the “real time” questions over as you write them, perhaps on its own sheet of paper or circled, so the lawyer can “glance and jot” a reply.
  16. _____  Don’t lose heart. You would be correct that the initial ruling, temporary parenting plan, occupation of the family residence, or which vehicle you get CAN portend the future. It is the FIRST ROUND of what could be a long fight. So, keep your cool even if unhappy with the result.
  17. _____ Your lawyer (this lawyer) cares deeply for you, your children, and your case. Take care before blaming or whipping him. A good lawyer will candidly admit a mistake or misunderstanding. Be gracious. Like most mules, “lashing” him won’t make him pull harder.
  18. _____ You and your lawyer are a team. Help him/her to be as prepared as possible, and she/he will paint an oral picture of the case to come.
  19. _____ Finally, if you are sitting next to Mr. Hunter, relax; he’s been in that seat over 5000 times.

** Footnote: the recent, defeated, partisan custody bill, which rational forces successfully deflected and modified, would have done away with proffers. Under that statute, every hearing would require the ponderous presentation of evidence under the perplexing “ WV Rules of Evidence”. What a boon to the party with the larger paycheck or wallet or bank account. Proffers allow the court to assess a case while maintaining efficiency. Evidentiary hearings cost time and money. False proffers have a way of punishing the profferer.


This post was written by Burton Hunter

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