I got up early this morning in eager anticipation of today’s events. It’s game day –the day for my client’s temporary hearing. Years ago I hung up my glove and cleats and traded them in for a briefcase, laptop and last season’s tie. The smell of pine tar is replaced with the aroma of coffee and toner. It’s not sexy, but it is what I’ve got. Today we compete.
Last night I texted my client two words: “Patience” and “Poise.” Law and Order and other legal shows that take a case from start to finish is 60 minutes (including commercial breaks) have given the American population the misconception that the wheels of justice turn faster than they really do. Justice is a little like agriculture –there is lots of dirt and time must pass before we are ready to harvest. I actually think my father-in-law can take his corn from seed to grain in the bin a little faster than I can finish most divorces. With overcrowded dockets, litigious lawyers and soon to be ex-spouses with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads, sometimes we have to let the process and the grieving rituals take their course. Patience and poise.
A temporary hearing is the thing that restores order to the lives of a divorcing couple. It is the calm after the storm. When two people decide to get a divorce, there is a period of calamity that will continue until a system is worked out for life to continue. Who is going to pay the bills? What is the co-parenting schedule? How is child support and alimony going to work? These are the questions that litigants, lawyers and judges have to answer. The result is a 6 or 7 page document that outlines custody, visitation, child support, insurance, use and possession of real and personal property, debt service, and other stuff using the now further stretched financial and emotional resources of a family that is trying to live in two places (sometimes).
One of the many problems with our system for temporary hearings in Mississippi is the lack of a uniform system for conducting them. But this is more of a lawyer problem than a client problem. The Judge in your case has a way of doing things; even if it is a bad one, and there is nothing you can do about it except remember the words to my client last night…Patience and Poise.
Some basic things you need to do:
1) Make sure your financial declaration is complete. This is your first priority. Without an accurate financial statement and information to back it up, the Judge is playing a bad game of adult pin the tail on the donkey. Listen to your lawyer. If she says jump, you say “How high?” (unless they suck)
2) Get your witnesses lined up. In a temporary hearing, you are rarely going to get to call a bunch of folks to testify. If there is a hotly contested issue, the judge may want to hear from 2 or 3 other people besides the parties. That’s it. This is not the OJ Simpson trial. We are plugging the leak in your life with bubble gum.
3) Consider diplomacy. Your lawyer should have already completed a draft of a proposed Temporary Order. You have to think about the end game before you really know how to present your case. What are your alternatives to a negotiated settlement? Best, worse and most likely. (BATNA, WATNA and MLATNA) You have to know this stuff.
4) Relax. A temporary hearing is temporary. While certainly important, it is not your last bite at the apple. While a temporary hearing will set the pace of the litigation, if you sit back, be the best version of yourself and trust your counsel (unless they suck), you will make it through this minor speed bump in the road of your life.