Preparing and presenting a case in Family Court can be confusing and intimidating. Generally, the victim in a civil court is responsible for the gathering of information, preparation and presentation of the case to the court. Given the way Family court functions, the contesting party, such as in cases of domestic violence, the abuser, has the opportunity to make counter points and accusations. The validity of those arguments, may not be thoroughly investigated or understood by the court, thereby affecting outcomes that could cause secondary victimization to the victim by denying custody of children.
Especially in cases deciding custody, there are ways one can best present their case. Note the information provided are only suggestions to best present a case, they are not legal advice, or guidelines on how to win a case:
It’s best to have a Family Law attorney to help you negotiate the court system. However, if you are unable to have legal representation, you might consider speaking with a domestic violence advocate or a lawyer about how to present any evidence about abuse to the children. It’s advised to be very careful as to how to present this information so as not to backfire and implicate the victim.
Be as polished and professional as possible. Arrive to court on time, dress as you would for a job interview.
Have evidence and documentation ready. According to the WOMEN’S LAW WEBSITE, while each state has its own independent laws regarding what evidence is admissible in court, most can include:
Testimony in court (from you or your witnesses);
Medical reports of injuries from the abuse;
Police reports for when you or a witness called the police;
Pictures of your injuries (it’s better if they are dated);
Household objects torn or broken by the abuser;
Pictures of your household in disarray after an episode of domestic violence;
Pictures of weapons used by the abuser against you;
Tapes of calls you may have made to 911, which can be subpoenaed;
Certified copies of relevant criminal convictions of the abuser (you may be able to get these through the clerk of criminal court);
A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened.
Speak only to the judge and do not engage the abuser
Gather all necessary documents regarding the abuser’s criminal record, especially as it is related to domestic violence. Judges will give more weight toward criminal system records rather than personal statements.
Anticipate how the abuser might respond in court. How will you respond should there be false accusations against you?
Put evidence together in a concise and orderly package (TIPS FOR HANDLING A FAMILY COURT CASE):
Evidence for Jane Doe v. John Doe Criminal Status of John Doe Criminal System Printouts Hospital Record of My Injuries Three witness statements re John Doe’s violence Statements of our two children re custody wishes
Prepare an index card with 3-4 talking points to present to the judge. Make it easy to read in order keep you on point should you get flustered or start to experience any emotional surges that might throw you off balance.
Do not make contact with your abuser’s attorney, unless ordered by the court.
Do not go to court alone. If you do not have friends or family to support you, rely on your attorney or victim advocate.