High-conflict cases present a high level of emotional, financial, and logistical difficulty for people. Everybody thinks that’s the most typical type of case family court deals with, but that’s usually not true. Believe it or not, it’s the aberration. You really need to be prepared for your high-conflict divorce, because a lot of your judges and even a lot of lawyers may not be. In this article, I suggest several steps you can take to make it easier to get through a high-conflict case.
My assumption in this article is that you’re working with an family attorney in Montclair. If you’re handling a high-conflict case on your own, some of this will still apply (probably even more so), but it’s sort of geared towards expecting you to have an attorney in the case. Hiring an attorney is something you should consider if you do have a high-conflict case.
Learn about the case
The first thing you need to do is learn what is going to be important in the case. Don’t just jump in and wait day-by-day, week-by-week, to see what happens and comes your way. You really need to find out in advance, so you want to either do some research or talk to your lawyer. Find out the different hearings that are likely to occur over the time in your case. Research what you’re going to need to do or to have prepared for those hearings.
You want to find out what kind of applications you may be filing. Are there going to be motions in the middle of your case? Are there going to be settlement statements that need to be prepared? What exactly will your lawyer be doing in the future to present to the court, so you can start getting a handle on that once you start the case?
You also want to know if there’s going to be discovery. Are you going to be asking for or producing documents, taking depositions, and asking written questions? You want to know all this as early as you can, so you can study what these issues are and get prepared for them.
Lastly, be prepared to ignore a lot of conflict. I say that because, in a high-conflict case, you’re going to get a lot of what I call “nuh-uh” letters. One lawyer will write to the other and say, “Your client did this and your client did that and your client said this,” and then your lawyer writes back, “Nuh-uh, we didn’t do that. It was actually your client who did this and did that.” Those are a waste.
With a limited exception when there’s something serious that you want to confirm, these letters are inadmissible in court, they’re not relevant, and they’re self-serving, so you’re going to spend a lot of time and money if you try to respond to them. So when you’re learning in advance about what to expect, you want to recognize what types of issues you need to respond to, and what you can ignore. It’s going to save you a lot of grief and a lot of legal fees.
Learn about the process
You also want to learn about the general process in advance. You want to know what’s going to be expected at each one of these hearings. If you reviewed your case in advance, and you know that you’re going to have four different hearings and two different settlement conferences, find out about those specific conferences. What are the issues? What will be expected of you? What do you need to have prepared in advance? Once you learn the hearings and you have the expectations, you can then prepare for what’s going to come instead of dealing with it last minute.
Minimize your attorney’s work
If you have a divorce lawyer in Nutley in the case, you want to try to minimize your lawyer’s work. High-conflict cases are very, very difficult and costly, and often unnecessarily so, because most of the fees you incur are for things like the “nuh-uh letters” which really have no impact on your case.
There are certain things you can try to do if you work with a lawyer to minimize your lawyer’s cost. For instance, if you’re bringing in information, bring in a couple sets of copies, so they’re ready to go. Usually you should bring in three or five copies, depending on what you’re bringing it in for. You want to have one for your attorney, one for your file, one or two that may go to the adversary, and one or two that may go to the court. You’ll save yourself a lot of legal fees and cost if you do that.
When you’re submitting something to your attorney, proofread it first, or have somebody else proofread it, and make sure it makes sense. There are a lot of sites on the internet that will do grammar checks before you send them to your lawyer, so that he or she doesn’t need to go through all the cleanup.
You may also want to know in advance from your attorney how much information can be submitted. You don’t want to submit 20 pages of single-spaced text, just for your lawyer to say you can only have eight, double-spaced; you’ll have to either take out 75% of what you wrote or leave it to your lawyer to do that. Again, that’s going to run up a ton of fees. Clients often think they’re helping by submitting a lot of information, but it’s not really helpful if we have to go through and digest it all and take it all out. We’re spending more time than if we had just prepared it ourselves.
Overall, you want to get a feel for how much information your attorney needs, and what’s the best way to present it? Each lawyer does things a little differently, so before you bring five copies of your documents in, find out if that is in fact going to help your attorney and ask your attorney how you can better assist maintaining the conflict and the cost of your case while he or she is preparing it.
Prepare your budget
The last thing you can do to prepare for your high-conflict case is to have some sense of your budget. I don’t mean just legal fees, which obviously is going to be an important part. You’re also going to have expert fees, court filing fees, copying costs, and you’re going to be missing work and paying for parking. There are a lot of expenses that will come up in a high-conflict case in addition to your legal fees, and you really need to be prepared in advance for what they may be. The easiest way to do that is speak to an attorney who has gone through it.
I don’t generally recommend talking to anybody who’s gone through a high-conflict case themselves, unless you know their situation very well. Every case is different, and you’ll get a lot of skewed opinions from people who have been through high-conflict cases.
Those are the four main points to focus on when facing a high-conflict case. To reiterate: you want to learn what’s going to be important for your case, learn about the process in advance, minimize your attorney’s legal work, and prepare a budget. This isn’t necessarily everything you can expect, but this information will at least give you some guidance if you or somebody you know is in a high-conflict case, whether it’s a divorce, child custody, or domestic violence matter.