Preparing for a Temporary Orders Hearing
Most “family law” matters require an initial hearing at which ground rules will be established to maintain stability in the family pending final orders. These rules can be reached by agreement between the parties or be ordered by the court following a “temporary orders hearing.” These orders typically govern child support and visitation obligations, spousal support, temporary use or management of property, and responsibility for payments of certain expenses. Temporary orders hearings take place early in the litigation process, well before all the evidence has been developed. Yet they can drastically influence the final outcome of a case. It is critical that parties and their attorneys prepare in advance for these hearings and muster all the evidence the court will need to consider in order to obtain a favorable ruling. If child support is at issue, reliable financial information must be presented in admissible form. At a minimum, clients should provide their counsel with copies of their last few years of income tax returns, a recent pay stub, and financial worksheets outlining their complete income and monthly expenses. If a parent’s income varies seasonally, be prepared to demonstrate that. It is often critical to determine the individual cost of the child’s medical insurance premium separately from that of the parent’s premium. A letter from the parent’s human resources department or insurer can be very helpful. Clients should never remove any family member from any health insurance policy during litigation without first consulting their attorney. Most courts require all health insurance policies to be maintained until final orders are entered. If access or custody arrangements are being considered, the court must weigh the best interests of the child. Don’t wait until after the hearing to arrange for day care, after-school care, and child transportation plans. The court also needs to know about any special needs of the child. Most courts will require that the child’s place of residence be maintained in close proximity to both parents in order to protect the child’s right to frequent and continuing access to both parents. If a family business or marital residence is at issue, be sure to provide your attorney with the relevant information necessary to show the court the reasons behind your position regarding who should have temporary use and control of the asset. If a particular computer, vehicle or piece of equipment is critical to your business, be prepared to demonstrate that fact. Remember, the court will be awarding temporary use of marital property. The final division will be accomplished at a later date. Don’t let your case get ambushed by failing to alert your attorney to problems that could arise in court. Drug tests are frequently ordered at these hearings. Outstanding warrants, even for traffic tickets, could result in an arrest prior to the hearing. Tell your attorney in advance about any skeletons in the closet, pending criminal cases, etc. Damage control requires advance warning. Arrange for a preparation meeting with your attorney well in advance of your hearing and map out your strategy for the best presentation of your case.