Appearing in Court for any reason, whether as a party to a case or as a witness or both, can be a great source of anxiety for anyone. That anxiety is often magnified in a family law case because emotions tend to run high when parties are in a divorce or child custody dispute.
One way to help ease the stress of going to Court is to be as prepared as possible for every Court appearance. In New Mexico, family law matters are heard by a District Court judge in the area in which the case is filed, which is called the Judicial District. For instance, cases filed in Albuquerque are heard by the Second Judicial District Court and cases in Rio Rancho are heard by the Thirteenth Judicial District Court.
Once you get in front of the Court, the primary issue at a hearing will most often be how the New Mexico law regarding division of assets and debts, custody, timesharing and child support applies to the facts of the case. Thus, it is essential that the parties and their attorneys be prepared with knowledge of the facts, and evidence to support those facts, as well as knowledge of the applicable law, including print outs of statutes and case law.
Another important part of being prepared for a hearing, beyond knowing the law and facts, is an understanding of what issues are set for that hearing and how much time is allotted. Not every hearing in a family law matter will address all of the outstanding issues between the parties, especially if the matter is highly contentious.
Often a hearing will be set to address a single issue or set of issues, i.e. child support or the interim division of income and expense. This is true during a divorce proceeding, where there may be several shorter hearings before the court holds the final trial or evidentiary hearing at which it resolves all outstanding issues related to the parties‘ marriage.
In turn, the court has ongoing jurisdiction over support and custody for children until they turn 18, therefore, there can be hearings in those cases every time there is a material and substantial change in circumstances.
Also, Judges will not allow the presentation of evidence at every hearing; some hearings are just set in order to give the Court an idea of the pending issues so it can determine how to proceed. For instance, if the parties are set for a ten minute pre-trial conference at which the Court typically sets dates for trial and other deadlines, the parties should not show up expecting to present evidence of income and expect child support to be ordered.
Having an understanding of what will be addressed at a specific hearing not only helps parties and their attorneys be prepared but it also helps parties‘ manage their expectations of the relief they can expect to be granted by the Court at each appearance.
Of course, no attorney, or anyone else, can fully predict the outcome of a hearing, or how a Judge will rule on a specific issue. However, an experienced family law attorney should be able to help parties prepare for hearings by explaining what items are on the agenda or docket, understanding the applicable law and knowing the underlying facts.
Such preparation may not completely eliminate the anxiety caused by a court appearance, but is should help calm the parties down and has the added benefit of greatly increasing the party‘s chances of success.