Every Court Hearing Is Different
Preparing for court is a difficult area because every court hearing’s going to be different, but for this post, I am going to focus on oral argument on a motion. In New Jersey, that’s generally where the most activities going to happen in any type of case, whether it be a custody case or a divorce case. Motion and oral arguments are going to be the most activity so you need the most preparation. The first thing that you want to do is go back and re-read all the papers that were filed – both yours and the other party’s. You want to be familiar with what arguments you made, and you want to be familiar with what they responded to. You also want to make sure that everything that was referenced in both the papers are attached so that when it went to the judge, the judge got all the information that he or she needed.
Read Relevant Court Rules
Some of this advice is going to be a little difficult if you’re representing yourself, but you might want to read some of the court rules that relate to your issues. Sometimes the motion papers will address that and tell you what the court rules – they’re usually indicated by the following: R.###:###-. What I usually recommend is that you type that number into a web browser search: “New Jersey court rule R:” and then whatever the number that follows is. There’s a good chance you’ll actually get the text of the rule that comes up or maybe a case that deals with the rule that comes up. You’ve got to be careful because there’s a lot of information on the internet and you can’t be certain you’re going to get the right one. I think it would be helpful to try and get the court rules so you have some familiarity with what’s going to be happening when you actually get there.
Research the Judge
Next, you want to research the judge that you are before. Again, a simple web browser will bring up some information. It’s helpful to know:
- How long a judge has been on the bench
- What he or she did before coming to family court
You’ll find a lot of judges in family court don’t actually have a lot of family experience before being appointed. They’re simply appointed and put into a position. Don’t assume that because they’re there, they have a great wealth of knowledge or experience. Unfortunately, some of them may not.
You also want to get a sense of the personality,. For instance, a lot of judges will have a prosecutor background, who often have a certain mentality, I think, of a guilty until proven innocent. Judges with prosecutor backgrounds are used to dealing with people that are maybe less than straightforward, and may have committed crimes. Prosecutors often have a mentality of the people are guilty. If you have a judge who spent a lot of time doing that kind of work, you may want to know that because that may be either helpful or against the kind of position. You don’t want to be taken by surprise when you get there.
Next, you might want to try to do a brief internet search, being very careful. There’s a great deal of information out there, but it is not necessarily accurate. Be very specific in the word choices that you use when you do pull up research or results. I would make sure that you’re only reading from attorneys’ websites. A lot of attorneys like myself have a great deal of information on our websites so you can try to rely on a lot of that. I’d be very careful about reading any kind of other information because you can’t be sure whether it’s accurate or if it’s binding in your state.
Consult an Attorney
I would consider having a consultation with an attorney. Many attorneys won’t be able to really advise you on a matter that’s pending, but because many do charge for a consultation, you can actually get legal advice on a pending matter. I know when I do a consultation, whether it’s for representation or for advice, I get all the client documents in advance so I know what you need to discuss when you come in. It’s not like you’re coming in with papers and we’re not prepared to give you answers then. Most lawyers I know don’t actually do that but if you come in with the papers, they can probably review it and give you some indication of what to expect.
Confirm Oral Argument Appointment
Last, you want to call and confirm that you’re actually scheduled for oral argument. Again, this is mostly intended for motion preparation – not every case is scheduled for argument. You want to make sure that yours is scheduled. They also may have changed the date and you might not have known that. Sometimes you get a notice, sometimes you don’t. Then, it can’t hurt to confirm with the other side that they’re also aware and planning to appear. If there’s an attorney on the other side, it’s a lot easier. If you’re dealing with the other party, it’s sometimes very taxing, but you don’t want to get there only to find out that they didn’t know or that they thought it was a different time.
I hope this information helps you. Some of the advice will help you in other types of hearings that you may have, but primarily that’s what this was intended for.