John Robin White, PABy ROBIN WHITE,
As a practicing domestic relations attorney in Central Mississippi, I am often asked about what it takes to be successful when pursuing a divorce or child custody. To answer that question, I recently wrote and published my first book, “9 Secrets to Winning Your Divorce and Custody Case” as a guide for those thinking about a divorce or who are already involved in the divorce process.
“9 Secrets” is written in plain language that is understandable by the non-attorney. It is short and easy-to-read. And while the facts of each case are different and may require different strategies to be successful, “9 Secrets” describes nine actions that are applicable in almost every case. In this article, I will disclose and summarize the nine “secrets,” but to get the full picture, one needs to read the book. (See below how you may receive your own complimentary copy of the book.)
Secret 1-The Right Attorney Matters-One of the most important decisions you will make related to your case is the selection of your attorney. It is not a decision to be taken lightly or to make without being fully informed. You can spend a lot of time researching online or using other resources, but the most effective tool for finding the best divorce and custody attorney is the personal recommendation of family members or trusted friends.
Almost everyone has a family member or trusted friend whose marriage has ended in divorce and who has used the services of a divorce attorney. Were they happy with their attorney’s efforts? With the results? Did their attorney treat them fairly on the fee? Did their attorney return calls and emails promptly and keep them informed about their case? If so, their attorney may be a good fit for you too.
Ask these questions: Does the attorney focus his practice on divorce and custody? How much experience does the attorney have? Does the attorney have time for your case? Beware of the attorney who overpromises results, claims to have a special inroad to the judge, or promises to inflict pain on the other party. If you encounter an attorney like that, run.
Secret 2-You Should Begin with Reasonable Expectations-Almost all divorce and custody clients bring with them a mixed bag of hurt, anger, frustration, fear, and uncertainty. For most, it is the lowest point of their lives. The attorney must help the client understand what the attorney can and cannot do, and the things the court will and will not do. He must educate the client and dispel any misperceptions the client may have. If a party begins the case with unreasonable expectations, a good result may be viewed negatively or a fair settlement offer may be rejected unadvisedly.
Secret 3-You Can Know What the Judge is Thinking-One does not have to be a mind reader to know what the judge in a divorce and custody case is thinking about. The judge is required to consider various “standards,” “factors,” and “guidelines” in deciding the different aspects of the case, so it is likely the judge will be thinking about those throughout the case. If one knows what those standards, factors, and guideline are, he will know what evidence will be most effective and will know the best order in which to present the evidence so that his presentation lays out a road map the judge can follow to the desired destination.
Secret 4-You Should Always Tell the Judge What She Wants to Hear-When telling the judge the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you should confine your testimony to the facts that matter to her and those which are known to you first hand. That is what the judge wants to hear. She does not want to hear testimony about things unrelated to the issues of the case, nor does she want to hear you repeat what someone else said. The first concept is known as “relevance” and the second is “hearsay.” The judge wants to hear relevant evidence that is known to the witness firsthand and is not hearsay.
Secret 5-Preparation is Key-Vince Lombardi once said, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” Nowhere is the willingness to prepare more important than in a divorce and custody case. There are many elements that go into preparation but some of the most important ones for a party are to finalize and formalize his financial arrangements with the attorney, provide the attorney an outline of the important events, provide needed documentation, participate in the discovery process, line up his witnesses early, think about expert witnesses in the beginning, go to the courthouse and look around, and practice his testimony.
Secret 6-Credibility is Everything-Divorce and child custody cases are “fact driven” cases meaning that the winner of the case is most often the party who has “the facts on his side.” But facts are not always agreed upon or readily discernable. Two reasonable people may see, hear, or read the exact same thing and have two completely different interpretations of the encounter. When witnesses contradict one another with their testimony, it is the judge’s job and duty to determine which witness’ testimony is most likely to be accurate and truthful.
The judge looks to the testimony that is most credible. While credibility can be subjective, there are certain attributes that some people possess or behaviors they adopt that
See John Robin White, Page 10C
give them a sense of credibility on the witness stand. Those are discussed at length in the book.
Secret 7-The Child’s Preference is Important-If both parents are fit and can provide a home for the child, a child who has reached the age of 12 may state his preference to the court concerning custody. The court is not bound by the child’s preference, but if the court does not honor the child’s preference, the court must explain on the record why not. That puts a lot of pressure on the judge to follow the child’s preference. In turn, the parents sometime succumb to the temptation of putting pressure on the child to “choose between the parents.”
Some parents try to entice the child with fun activities, freedom from responsibility, designer purses, luxury cars, ski boats, etc. It is quite disheartening to watch parents manipulate children in that manner and I would never suggest such tactics to a client. But I cannot deny the success that some parents have using those tactics. The facts of each case are different and each party must discuss with his attorney the pros and cons of involving the child in the custody determination process. Likewise, each person must search his own soul and determine his own comfort level in determining how to approach the child about such issues.
Secret 8-An Out-of-Court Settlement Beats a Trial-While compromise and settlement may seem counter-intuitive to the theme of the book, those of us who are familiar with the legal process understand that reaching a compromise settlement without having to go through a trial is a victory in and of itself. The more you can resolve on your own, the more you will have control over your own life instead of placing that control in the hands of a stranger. Of those clients whose cases were resolved before trial, not one has ever called me to say that they wish they had gone to trial instead. A reasonable out-of-court settlement is a win and beats a trial every time.
Secret 9-Children Benefit When You Resist the Nuclear Option-Everybody loves to win and nobody likes to lose. There is nothing wrong with that. But sometimes people are not happy with just a win. They are only happy if they annihilate the other party. Their goal becomes to destroy the other person emotionally, financially, or by alienating the parties’ children from the other. I see it every day. I do not subscribe to the philosophy that the other party must be destroyed for my client to win. Parties must remember that when the case is over, when the smoke clears, the parties still have children to raise together which will link them together for a long time.
If one person destroys the other in the divorce case, if the Earth is left scorched after the battle, it makes it that much more difficult to cultivate a relationship afterward. Resist the nuclear option. Your children will thank you later.
Robin White (aka John Robert White) is a domestic relations attorney in Ridgeland and has been a practicing attorney in Central Mississippi for more than 30 years. Over that time, Robin has represented hundreds of men and women in divorce and custody matters. Robin also is a husband, father, and grandfather.
If you would like a complimentary copy of 9 Secrets to Winning Your Divorce and Custody Case, visit www.MississippiFamilyLawyer.net and leave your request.