October 2014 Bar Bulletin
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October 2014 Bar Bulletin

A Dozen Family Law Tricks Before Trial

By Mark Alexander


One: Start with the end. When organizing your case for trial, start with the closing argument. What do you want to say to the judge? Now work backward to plan how to establish all the points you want to make in your closing: through admissions, interrogatories, testimony or cross-examination, prior pleadings, exhibits, etc.

Two: The petition for dissolution (the response, too) has a "Relief Requested" option to ask for attorney fees. In an appropriate case, consider checking that box regardless (prefaced with "Other:" since you are modifying the mandatory form's language), and adding "if contested" to provide a little extra motivation to settle the case amicably.

Three: In negotiations, when the other side is either far too low or too high in valuing an asset, be prepared to offer to buy or to sell for their figure, effectively turning the tables. "Do you really feel the home is worth that? OK, it's yours at that value."

Four: In your motion/response/reply, use paragraph headings. They help the court and you find an excerpt on short notice.

Five: If your motion or response has several exhibits, include a "List of Exhibits" to help the court find them. For exhibits with multiple pages, number those pages, even if you have to do so by hand. It is much clearer (and sounds more professional) to refer the court to "Exhibit 5, page 6," instead of "Exhibit 5, about halfway through."

Six: New attorneys, consider sitting in on the family law motions calendar when you have free time. If asked by the court, say you are there to learn. You are likely to see both good practice and bad practice; learn from both.

Court commissioners encounter people who are clueless about court and could use a good attorney who isn't expensive. I have seen them tell a party: "Why don't you go talk to Ms. X in the hallway to see if she might be able to help you?" Or they may ask if you are available to serve as a guardian ad litem (check out the GAL registry as another potential source of cases) or as a mediator.

Seven: Before a contested hearing, talk to the other attorney (or unrepresented party) in the hallway beforehand and/or earlier to see if you can agree on some or all of the issues:

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