Important Information in Family Law Cases
Before You Begin
WAIT TO SIGN YOUR NAME on the documents in front of a Notary Public. The Notary Public has to see you sign the documents.
Are you in the right county? The petition cannot be heard by the judge if Fulton County is not the right county. You will have to start over in the right location.
Read the instructions carefully before you fill out the forms.
Make photocopies for your file and for the Respondent. It is a good practice to keep your legal papers in a folder or a large envelope.
Talk with an attorney if the situation is complicated or if you are confused about what to do.
Uncontested Cases — A case will be designated as uncontested if an Acknowledgment of Service form, Consent to Trial in 31 Days form, Child Support Worksheet (if applicable), and Settlement Agreement (if applicable) are included with the other necessary documents at the time of filing. In uncontested cases, all petitioners, and their attorneys, if they are represented by counsel, shall appear at the time and place designated for the 30-Day Status Conference, and they may receive the Final Judgment and Decree at that time.
Contested Cases — Bring with you the completed Domestic Intake Worksheet, and, if applicable, the completed Child Support Worksheets, Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, Answers to Interrogatories and the documents in response to Required Documents to be Produced.
Tips on Representing Yourself in Court
The Court is a very traditional and polite place. When you are representing yourself in Court you are trying to persuade a judge or a jury that you are right. So you must act, dress, and speak in a way that helps you with your case.
When you come to Court, dress as professionally as possible. This means clothes that are neat and clean. You should be clean and neatly groomed.
How you act is very important. You must be respectful to everyone in Court. This includes the judge, Court staff, the other party involved in your case, witnesses, and people in the hallways.
The Court has a very busy schedule, so you must be on time for the judge or for any other appointment. If you are late, your case might get postponed. Make sure you bring all the court documents you need for your appointment.
The judge cannot speak to you about your case except when your case is being heard and when the other party is there. The judge's staff will help you any way they can with questions like when your hearing is scheduled or whether the judge has decided yet on your case. But, staff cannot give you legal advice or recommendations on what you should do. Always be polite with judges and with Court staff, and be prepared to provide any information they request.
If you decide that you must later communicate information about your case to the Court, you may write what you have to say in a letter and send it to the Court providing a clear, brief explanation or your concerns. PLEASE NOTE: You must also send a copy of the letter to the other party or parties in the case.
When you represent yourself in court, get legal advice from a lawyer ahead of time to make sure you are doing the right thing. Legal advice includes deciding what option is best for you.
In summary, always remember the four Ps:
Following these tips will go a long way toward helping you help yourself in Court.
How To Prepare Your Case For Trial
STEP 1: CHOOSING YOUR WITNESSES
In General. In choosing a witness, you should think in terms of what you want to say to the Judge and what witnesses will help you tell your story to the Judge. Witnesses are people who will help to tell your story to the Judge. They should be people who can talk to the Judge under oath about things they have seen or know directly, not things they have heard from you or someone else. Note that the court will not accept a written statement from a witness who is not in court.
Custody Cases. In custody cases, you will need to think about who can come to court and who will best explain why it is in the best interest of your child or children to be with you. Examples of good witnesses are: teachers, day care workers, or close friends who can tell the Judge how you are caring for the child's physical, emotional, and/or psychological needs.
Family Members. Family members are good witnesses as well, but remember that a professional or third party is more believable to a Judge than a family member.
Supervised or Restricted Visitation. If you are seeking supervised or restricted visitation, witnesses who have seen acts of domestic violence, abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other behaviors which explain to the judge why you want supervised or restricted visitation, should be brought to court.
Child Support and Alimony. If you are seeking alimony and/or child support, you may need witnesses who can talk about the income of the other party. If there is not enough evidence about to his or her income, you may want witnesses who can talk about his or her job skills or experience. For example, co-workers, accountant, yourself, family members, classmates, or instructors.
STEP 2: CHOOSING YOUR EXHIBITS
In General. An exhibit can be any object, paper, photograph, receipt, letter, or document that tells the Judge something relevant to your case.
Custody Cases. In custody cases, helpful exhibits may include the children's report cards, school progress reports, reports of doctors or psychologists, and medical reports. Also, calendars indicating time spent with the child are very helpful. (Please note that in some cases, you will need the witness who made the report in court so the court can allow the report into evidence.)
Visitation. If you are seeking restricted visitation, evidence such as medical and police reports and conviction records, would be helpful. Please note that if you are going to use a medical or police report, you need to have the doctor and/or reporting officer in court, and you will need certified copies of public records.
Child Support and Spousal Alimony. You will need a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit; the form should be provided to you early in the case. This is a very important document, and you should take extreme care in preparing it and make it as accurate as possible.
Other Evidence. You will need to prove your income and the income of the other party. You may use tax returns for each party (they may be individual or joint), copies of W-2's for the last three to five years, copies of pay stubs for the last three to five years, bank statements, account statements, retirement benefit statements, pension plan statements, ledgers, check registers, and corporate or partnership tax returns.
Property and Debt. If there is a question of division of property and debt, you should also bring copies of all the credit card bills, the documentation concerning the mortgage and payoff amount, personal loans, financial statements, bank statements, including check and/or savings balances, and any other documents that relate to finances.
STEP 3: HOW TO HAVE YOUR WITNESSES APPEAR IN COURT
Subpoena. In order to make witnesses appear in court, you will need to have the witnesses served with a subpoena with mileage and a per diem cost. A subpoena is a court order that tells the witness that he must come to court. Ask the court clerk to issue subpoenas for your witnesses several days before your trial. The clerk can explain how much it will cost. You will need to give the clerk the names and addresses of the witnesses you want to appear in court. You should subpoena your witnesses even if they have agreed to come to court without a subpoena. The reason is because if your witness has an emergency at the last minute and can't come, you can ask the judge to reschedule the trial so that he or she can hear that witness testify. If you have not subpoenaed that witness, the judge will make you go forward with the trial, and will decide the case without your witness. If your witnesses are expert witnesses such as doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists or accountants, then you will need to pay them for their time in advance.
STEP 4: GOING TO TRIAL
Pretrial Order. After you have chosen your witnesses and exhibits, you will need to fill out a Pretrial Order established by the Family Law Court.
Exhibits. In preparing exhibits for trial, you need to do the following:
Prepare a list of the exhibits.
Mark the exhibits: If you are the petitioner, write "Petitioner #1" on the first exhibit, and "Petitioner #2", and so forth; if you are the Respondent, your exhibits should be marked in the same fashion, "Respondent #1," "Respondent #2," etc.
You should make at least two copies of the exhibits. One for you, one for opposing counsel or opposing party, and the original for the Court. The original exhibit will be placed into evidence with the Court.
At trial, you need to ask to have your exhibits admitted into evidence after you have identified them to the Court. When you want to use an exhibit, simply identify it to the court (for example, "I have marked this document as Petitioner's Exhibit #1.") You may have to have a witness explain what that document is. Then before the end of your case, you may have the exhibit admitted into evidence by telling the judge that you wish to "tender" the exhibits that you identified during the trial. You need to be specific (for example, "Your honor, at this time I would like to tender Petitioner's Exhibits 1, 2, 5, and 7 through 10"). The Judge will decide if the Exhibit will be admitted into evidence based on the applicable rules of law.
Court Room Behavior
Be courteous to all parties, lawyers, witnesses, and court personnel.
Be respectful to the Judge and do not argue with the Judge.
Be on time.
Dress appropriately - wear nice, clean clothes.
Do not interrupt someone else when he or she is talking, (especially the Judge).
Stand up when you are speaking to the judge or a witness.
Prepare all questions for your witness in advance.
Anticipate and prepare questions for the other side's witnesses.
Prepare in advance what you want to tell the Court and know what you want the Court to do.