Preparing family law documents to get the results you want

Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher gave some terrific advice for preparing family law documents:  “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

What a guy, that Yogi. The iconic baseball player died recently and I’m sure a lot of people went to his funeral, especially if he kept his own advice: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Yogi had a million sayings, but his comment about knowing where you’re going is an important principle for preparing family court material. Too many people forget to start with their end goal. What is the order you want the judge to make and why should he or she make it? Many people try to tell the judge the “whole story” to help her understand why they deserve what they’ve asked for. That’s usually a mistake.

First, the “whole story” takes a lot of time, which the judge doesn’t have. The more you discuss things that aren’t fundamental to the judge’s decision, the less time you’ll have to talk about important matters. Second, it can divert attention from the issue before the court, making the judge’s decision more challenging.

Less is More

 Background information isn’t as important as you think. When preparing materials start with the decision you want the judge to make and provide only the information that will help the judge get to that decision.

Think about it from the judge’s perspective. Judges have lots of files to go through on a daily basis. Sometimes, they’ll read smaller files first and put off the thicker files until later. Or they may start skimming a file with too much information to get to the important details. To keep things simple and easy for your judge to read, your documentation should clearly answer three questions:

  • What’s the issue to be decided?
  • What’s the result you are looking for?
  • Why should you get it?

Some background is often needed, but too much clouds the key questions. Sticking to the relevant facts that support your desired outcome tells the judge you’re a serious person and that she/he should pay attention to you. The more time you spend on things unrelated to your end goal, the more it seems that you don’t know what you want.

Keep your documents brief and to the point. Otherwise, it’s like not knowing where you want to go. And in that case, you may end up somewhere else.