Preparing For Your Massachusetts Divorce Or Custody Hearing – Ten Tips

November 8, 2022 O'Connor Family Law Latest News

If you have your first court hearing coming up, chances are the nerves are high. These tips will help you get ready and put your best foot forward.

  1. Make sure service has been completed properly. If it’s your motion and you do not have the proper proof of service, the Court will not let your motion move forward. Bring an extra copy with you if you don’t have an attorney.
  2. Get educated on what the purpose of the hearing is. There are many different types of hearings – motion hearings, contempt hearings, evidentiary hearings, status hearings, pretrial hearings, and many others. Each type is going to have a different process and will require different types of arguments.
  3. Do not drink or do any sort of drugs (unless prescribed) before – especially the night before your hearing, especially if there are allegations of abusing alcohol or drugs – and this includes the person making the allegations. If the Judge sends one person for a drug or alcohol test, they usually send both people.
  4. Figure out where you need to park before the morning of your hearing and make sure you get there in enough time in case the lots are already full. I’ve gotten to court before and had to drive around for 10-15 minutes because everywhere I normally park was packed full. Make sure you leave enough time to allot for this without increasing your anxiety because now you’re late too.
  5. Check ahead of time with the Court to see if they allow phones or other electronics into the building. Prior to Covid, a lot of courts restricted this and, if you brought a phone with you, you’d have to go back and leave it in your car. Then you’d have to go through security all over again.
  6. Know whether you need to check in with probation. Probation in family court isn’t like in criminal court. It can also be called Family Services. It is a service, often mandatory prior to being able to appear before the Judge on a motion hearing if both parties are not represented by an attorney and in some courts, even when they are represented by attorneys, where you or your attorney (and sometimes everyone) sits down with the probation or family service officer to discuss the contested issues and try to reach a settlement on them.
    1. It’s important to note that the name Temporary Orders can sometimes trick people into thinking they are not that big of a deal because they’re temporary. Don’t make that mistake – Temporary Orders have a habit of becoming permanent orders if the two parties don’t agree to something else.
    2. It’s also important to know that there can be quite a bit of pressure put on you to settle during this probation meeting. It is so important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case. If you believe in your position and cannot settle at what is being requested, don’t – you have the right to go before the Judge. Just realize that just because you believe in your position, the Judge might not see it the same way and you could end up with a worse outcome for you than what was being offered.
  7. Dress respectfully. Although appearances are not everything, how you dress and care for yourself does make a first impression on the Judge as soon as you walk up to that table. I tell our clients to dress like you’re going to a funeral. Most people still dress nice for that. And if you choose jeans and a t-shirt, be aware of the message your shirt is sending. I’ve seen people being accused of abusing drugs with a request for supervised visitation show up wearing clothes with drug paraphernalia on them. That does not help you. I’ve also seen people show up in clothes that, in a club would look great, but in a courtroom fighting for your children, does not send the right message. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on a fancy suit or dress clothes, but find the most conservative outfit you have and go with that.
  8. If you do enter into a stipulation or a Judgment, please, please, please make sure you completely understand the language that is written on the paper. If it is not written clearly or has left room for interpretation, that is just going to lead to further conflict. Make sure there are details in there about parenting time and finances that you can fall back on if you and your ex have disagreements moving forward – things like specific times and days for pick-ups and drop-offs, who is supposed to be doing the transportation, what happens on a snow day or sick day, that bills need to be paid timely – things like that.
  9. If it is a hearing where the Judge is going to enter an order, unless you agree or it is an emergency issue, you usually will not know the outcome leaving Court that day. The Judge will say that they are “taking the matter under advisement” at the end of the hearing. This means that they will write an Order based on the arguments and the pleadings later. That Order usually gets sent out in the mail and can take anywhere from a week to a month or more.
  10. Leave the entire day open. Court is completely unpredictable. We have been in court for things that we think should take less than an hour and end up stuck there all day long. Court typically ends around 4:30, so if you have kids, make sure you arrange for childcare until after that time. It’s better to not need it then be stressing at court because the hearing is running longer than you expected and you don’t know who is going to watch your kids. Also, being in court, even if you have an attorney arguing on your behalf, is incredibly stressful. You will likely have very mixed emotions when you leave the courthouse – it could be a mix of sadness, anger, resentment, loneliness, fear, excitement, hope, and confusion among many others – it could even be a situation where you experience all of them within a short period of time. This is exhausting. Taking the night off too where you can just relax and get your head on straight is ideal. However, for some people, getting busy and keeping their mind off of things might help keep them less anxious. There’s no right answer and you know you, so just make sure you’re doing what you need to stay healthy after a long day.