How to prepare for your court date

The judge, jury and everyone else in the courtroom will take notice of how you choose to present yourself to the court. You want to show that you respect the court and that you are taking the matter seriously. You do not have to wear a suit and tie but, there is definitely a difference between a pair of slacks with a button-up shirt compared to flip-flops, shorts and tank tops. You want to present the best image you can to the court. This will help your lawyer in his or her representation on your behalf.

In this Blog, I am going to focus on the most important points to remember when appearing before the judge in your divorce case.

  • Emotions:
    If you are scheduled to appear in Court, it isn’t because you have great news to share or hear. Court appearances will often bring a flood of emotions. When you are emotional, it is easy to forget proper tone and language. So first things first, check your emotions at the door. While emotions are understandable, the courtroom is not the proper place to express them. During your case if you feel overwhelmed let your attorney know so he/she can ask for a break. Go to the restroom or walk outside and take a few moments to collect yourself.
  • Attitude:
    Respect, yes, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It has come time for you to go head-to-head with your ex-spouse in the courtroom. It’s most likely that neither of you have any desire to show respect to the other, but during court, it is a must! Before you walk into the Courtroom, take a deep breath, put on your poker face and put your attitude in your pocket before you walk in. You should only communicate with your attorney, courtroom staff, the Judge or the opposing attorney. REMEMBER, the opposing attorney may make harsh remarks or ask unfavorable questions to tempt you to lose your cool. Once your hearing has begun, if you have a question for your attorney, pass them a note, and do not interrupt anyone – ESPECIALLY the Judge. If you must address the Judge, be sure to begin phrases with “Your Honor”, answer with “Yes/No Your Honor “ or “yes/no sir” “yes/no ma’am”.
  • Confidence:
    Once your hearing has begun, you have to maintain a level of confidence. Speak clearly and professionally. Make direct eye contact with whom you are speaking. Answer questions honestly. If you are not sure how to answer a question, simply state you do not understand the question, please rephrase. For example:

    DON’T say: “Do what, I don’t know what you mean.”
    DO say: “I’m sorry your honor, but I’m not sure I understand the question, will you ask the attorney to rephrase the question for me?”

  • Know when to Shut-up!:
    It is common for the opposing team to make several efforts to get you mad and show aggression. It is important that you keep your cool at all cost. Do not volunteer any information, in other words, speak only when spoken to. If your attorney instructs you to not say a word, keep your mouth closed. If the judge makes a ruling that you do not like, you must remain quiet.
  • Dress Appropriately:
    Please do not show up looking like you just rolled out of bed, just finished changing the oil in your car or working in your yard. Ladies, dress conservatively. It isn’t the best idea to go to into a court room wearing revealing clothes. You have to present yourself to be taken seriously if you expected to be taken seriously. Gentleman, do not come dressed in the latest designer fashions with a new Rolex watch on and claim you cannot afford to pay child support. We usually suggest a suit, dress slacks with a nice shirt. If you do not have either on hand and at the very least wear nice, clean jeans with a plain colored collared shirt. Hygiene: Ladies, conservative make-up, light perfume, trimmed nails and modest hair style. Gentleman, shave, light cologne, modest hair cut and trimmed nails. The main objective is to appear, clean cut, trustworthy and honest. Do not wear a lot of jewelry and if you have facial piercings, please remove them before entering the court room.
  • Cell Phones:
    It is preferred that you leave your cell phone in your car. If you bring your phone to court with you, be sure to have it on silent – not vibrate – silent. When your case is called and you have to answer questions from the Judge or attorney, do not pick up your phone. No texting, no emailing, no phone calls, no games just do not use your phone while court is in session. Should you have an emergency and need to use your phone, please excuse yourself and exit the courtroom. In the event that you have information stored on your phone for the court to review, politely ask the judge if you may turn on your cell phone to find the information in question.
  • Boyfriend/Girlfriend:
    If you are involved a divorce case, please – PLEASE – leave your significant other at home. If you feel like you need support, ask your parents or adult friend to come with you. Bringing your new boyfriend/girlfriend to court not only adds insult to injury for the other party, but also opens doors for the opposing attorney to question your fidelity during the marriage.

The judge is going to make long-lasting decisions about you and your family. You have only one chance to make a first impression on the judge. By exercising some common sense and discretion, you can prevent your appearance from negatively impacting the judge’s decision.

Social media and divorce

In the last blog post, we discussed court room etiquette. The do’s and don’ts how to present yourself to the judge are very important, but how should you behave outside of the court room?

Technology has caused the dynamic of case law, in general, to shift drastically. The majority of the world interacts using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, other social media sites, professional networking websites and various other mobile device applications. The convenience is fun, useful, handy and nearly second nature to most of the world. When anything happens in your life, whether it be exciting, tragic, or triumphant, your first reaction is to pull your phone out and update your status on social media! This is definitely much more convenient that having to call and have a conversation with all 718 (or whatever you number) of contacts, right? Well, maybe not.

Unfortunately, we get so wrapped up in the wanting to “share” our news that we fail to remember that once ANYTHING is on the internet, it is no longer private. The days of worrying about your “best” friend sneaking and reading your diary then your secret crush your secret is long past. When a couple divorces, they often have mutual friends on social media. Not all of the friends are neutral and willing to stay out of your personal affairs. Social media breeds drama and divorce loves drama.

Social media can provide the opposing spouse with an abundance of information that can make or break your case. If you are pleading to the court to reduce the amount of attorney’s fees, court cost, child support or anything remotely associated with money because you are broke, do not post photos or status updates that would suggest differently. Imagine the opposing spouse has pictures of your weekend away in Vegas with your new girl/boyfriend cruising around in the Lamborghini you rented for your lavish weekend that were posted to your Facebook, you have probably just wrecked your case.

Emails and text messages are admissible evidence in court. Yes, any text, email, social media post, networking website, online dating profiles can sometimes be subpoenaed and gone through with a fine tooth comb. I constantly remind clients, do not put ANYTHING in email, text or anywhere online that they would not want the judge to read. In a divorce case, if either spouse has documentation that could suggest the other spouse is not being truthful it can create serious problems and damage to your case.

While laws about submitting emails, text, social media post and other digital documentation differ from state to state and can be convoluted, the first and best idea is to suspend any and all digital accounts until the divorce proceeding is over. The most important point to remember is to ask your family and friends not to tag or mention you in a social media post period. You need to take a vow of silence from the digital world until the final order has been signed by the judge.

Representing yourself in a divorce case

Can I represent myself in a divorce case? The answer would be absolutely. Should you represent yourself in a divorce case? The answer would be probably not.

Let’s think of it this way: your transmission goes out in your car – do you attempt to repair it yourself or do you take your car to someone who knows how to repair a transmission and save yourself the trouble and financial burden of mistakes along the way?

Abraham Lincoln once said “he who represents himself has a fool for an attorney.” Although a bit crass, President Lincoln makes a valid point. People often make an attempt at representing themselves in a divorce case because of the cost associated with hiring an attorney to represent them. If you were to look at a case-by-case side by side comparison, you would probably find the long term cost of representing yourself in court far outweighs the initial cost of hiring an attorney to represent you.

If you are unsure how to answer any of the questions below – it is probably a good idea to hire an attorney:

  • Can I hire an attorney to help me only when I need it?
  • In what court do I file for divorce?
  • What paperwork do I need to file for divorce?
  • What is the process after I file for divorce?
  • How do I obtain a date to go to court?
  • What is required by the court when filing for divorce?
  • What questions should I ask the other party?
  • How do I subpoena someone to court?
  • The Clerk of Court can assist me with my case, right?
  • How do I respond to the Judge’s question?
  • How and what questions do I ask the opposing side?

Technology offers several resources to rely upon for documents, legal lingo, tips, tricks, FAQ’s, instructions and more to answer your questions about a divorce case when representing yourself. The one thing that the internet cannot provide that an attorney can is professional, targeted, well-trained practical working experience.

Back to the car analogy for a moment, you can watch a YouTube video or read a manual but who has more experience – a cyber helping hand YouTube video or a human that works hands on everyday with cars? Attorney’s are familiar with the inner workings of the court, documents needed, questions to ask, what Judges require and most importantly they have probably faced off with the opposing attorney before and have pretty judgment on what to expect. There is not any given amount of technology that can replace or substitute practical working experience in a court room.

Property Division in Divorce

As with any court case, the average person can be intimidated with all of the legal terms and jargon. In divorce cases, an often confusing term used is Equitable Division of Marital Property. What exactly does that mean and how does it affect a divorce case?

The first misconception about equitable division of martial property is that property is “equally” divided. The term actually refers to the division of property that the court deems as fair. The first step to equitable division is for the court to determine exactly what is deemed to be marital property and what is to be treated as the separate property. This is an important step because marital property has to be divided between spouses but separate property is not; spouses keep their separate property after divorce. The distinction between the properties is usually dependent upon the facts and circumstances in each individual case.

Marital property is typically acquired during the course of the marriage and is subject to equitable division rules. Once the court determines the property that is marital, the courts must determine how the property is to be divided. The following factors are usually considered when decided what would be the fair division of marital property in Georgia:

  • the separate assets and financial status of each spouse;
  • the income and earning capacity of each spouse;
  • the conduct of the spouses towards each other during the marriage, including during the divorce;
  • any wrongful conduct that resulted in a dissipation (waste) of assets by either spouse;
  • the future needs of either spouse, including retirement planning; and
  • each spouse’s debts.

Separate property is typically defined as any property acquired before the marriage or acquired during the marriage via a third-party inheritance or gift. To prevent future claims to inheritance or gifts, do not co-mingle separate property & marital property. Protect your separate property from becoming marital property by keeping the assets separate from marital property. Property acquired during the marriage belonging to a child of the marriage is not considered martial property. Gifts that spouses give to each other DO NOT fall in this category, they are considered marital property.

Divorcing spouses may resolve the terms of their divorce by negotiating and entering into a written settlement agreement memorializing their terms. Although entering into a divorce settlement is often the preferred way to resolve a divorce, it’s not always possible for spouses to agree on every aspect of their case. If they cannot resolve all of the issues, they will have to ask a judge to make decisions for them. Going to court can end up being quite expensive, because a contested divorce can take many months or even years to resolve.

Can I claim my children as dependents on my taxes?

Divorce touches on every aspect of life, including taxes. As a Newnan divorce attorney, it is not uncommon for clients to ask my advice on divorce related tax concerns. One of the most common questions I receive concerns taxes and child support, specifically: “Can I claim my children as dependents on my taxes if I pay child support?” Generally speaking, IRS only allows custodial parents to claim the dependency exemption for his or her qualifying children. For income tax purposes, the IRS defines the custodial parent as the parent with whom the children lived for the greater part of the year. So, even if you are paying child support for the children’s benefit, you will likely be unable to claim your children as dependents on your taxes if you are a non-custodial parent.

Although only the custodial parent is entitled to claim the dependency exemption in most cases, a non-custodial parent may be able to claim the exemption if the special rule for children of divorce or separated parents applies. This rule only applies if:

  • The parents are divorced, legally separated, or lived apart at all times during the last six months of the year
  • One or both parents provided more than half of the child’s total support of the year
  • One or both parents have custody of the child for more than half of the year

If all of the conditions are met, and the custodial parent signs a release, the non-custodial parent may claim the dependency exemption.

If you are a non-custodial parent seeking to claim the dependency exemption for your children, or you are currently in the divorce process, it is important to discuss the options and the specifics of your case with your attorney and a certified tax preparer. Contact us at Dreyer Law for more information on tax exemptions and all of your divorce questions.

Drug Use

Drug use plays a roll in custody decisions and parental rights in the United States and Georgia is no exception. Judges understand how devastating drug addiction is, but they do not base their decision solely on the use of illegal drugs.

When drug use is alleged, both parents will generally be required to undergo drug testing, usually in the day of court. A positive result may result in an award of custody to the clean/sober parent or could possibly result in just a warning from the judge depending on the drug being used and the result of the levels in his or her system.

First and foremost, courts are concerned with the best interest of the children. Judges will never condone the use of illegal drugs. Although it is not common, a judge may determine that it is not a threat to the children’s safety and award custody to a parent who is actively using drugs or who has a history of drug use. The judge will look at the whole picture and make their decision based upon the needs of the children.

Please note, if you are actively using recreational drugs, you are running the risk of losing all custody rights to your children. Please contact Dreyer Law today so we can advise you on the best programs to kick your drug use. Dreyer Law offers free consultations for divorces, child custody suits, and adoptions.

Expectations of Divorce

The most important factor in determining the outcome in divorce situations, other than the facts and circumstances, is expectations. If you have realistic expectations, your entire divorce experience will be less traumatic. Unrealistic expectations can result in trauma for the entire family involved. In order to keep your expectations realistic, consider the following.

The judge will not punish your spouse for bad behavior except in rare instances.  You may expect the courts to treat the spouse who committed adultery or was abusive harshly, but that is not always the case. Georgia allows a spouse to seek a no-fault divorce, even if it involves child custody. Courts normally decide divorce related issues based on today and not yesterday, so don’t waste a lot of energy trying to get the judge to punish your spouse.

Your children should be your number one priority. Divorce can be hard and traumatizing to children. It is important to express to your children that both of their parents will always love them no matter what. This will help them realize the divorce is not their fault. A lot of divorcing parents find that hiring a professional therapist will help a child during the divorce period. Choosing a family counseling session that the entire family can help the children cope with current circumstances and provide the tools they need after the divorce is final.

You and your spouse loved each other and got along in the beginning. Many people going through the divorce process forget that they once cared deeply for the spouse they are divorcing. Don’t forget that you both shared the same dreams in the beginning of your relationship and marriage. You have both had to deal with hurt and pain.

Always keep your emotions under control and out of the divorce process. The results of all divorce cases are unpredictable. However, if you are bitter towards your spouse the divorce process with be draining- both emotionally and financially. Instead of allowing your feelings to take over the divorce, think of it as a business transaction. Each little emotion you allow to slip out will have a price tag.

Dreyer Law specializes in Family Law including divorce, child support, modifications of existing orders, adoption, parenting class, and contempt. Call our Family Law office today for a free legal consultation.

6 things to do before filing for divorce

Divorce is hard on everyone even if you and your spouse agree on every aspect of this divorce civilly. Emotions are going to flare up and there may be a few challenges along the way. Many couples are blindsided by all of the proper steps that need to be taken in order to have a simple divorce. There are a few things you can do before starting down the road to divorce to help empower yourself and put yourself in a favorable position.

  •  Always know your finances. During the divorce process, you need to have access and knowledge of debts, income, assets, and expenses prior to filing for divorce.
  •  Get your affairs in order. Make sure that your estate is updated and your will is signed before you pursue a divorce. Some states you are not allowed to complete these transactions until the divorce is final.
  •  Set aside some money. Most all families keep an emergency fund in case one spouse gets laid off. You should always set aside a similar account of money because your spouse may cut you off once you file for divorce. Another tip is to place all of your valuable possessions and important documents in a safety deposit box or have someone you trust keep them safe for you.
  •  Keep a journal or notebook. It is always in good practice to keep a journal handy when kids are involved in your divorce. The journal is used to document all of the activities your spouse missed, all of the times they were suppose to take the children but never showed up, etc. Without this history of involvement before filing, it’s going to be harder to get full custody.
  •  Avoid social media. Social media has become powerful evidence in divorce cases. When you post photos on social media that can incriminate you and then you delete them before you file for divorce, you are destroying evidence, which is illegal. Venting about your spouse on social media is also a no. These posts can also be used against you in court.
  •  See a therapist. When you are considering a divorce from your spouse, you should seek a safe and confidential place to express yourself. This is where a therapist comes in, this information you confide in them cannot be uses against you in court.

Contact Dreyer Law with all of your legal needs. Dreyer Law specializes in Family Law including divorce, child support, modifications of existing orders, adoptions, parenting class, and contempt. Call our Family Law office today for a free legal consultation.