In part one I went over that six weeks before your custody trial you are checking your calendar, checking the judge's minute entries, checking the rules and checking your deadlines. You are making sure you have everything calendared and everything is disclosed. And you are looking ahead at the deadlines that are coming up prior to trial. Two common deadlines are giving your exhibits to the clerk for marking and the pre-trial statement.
In Arizona, you must provide your exhibits prior to trial. However, I can only speak for Arizona. In some states, the rules might be that the judge marks the exhibits on the day of the trial. This is why it is important for you to check your local rules.
In Arizona, a pre-trial statement is required. The pre-trial statement is where you give the judge a preview of the things that you agree on and a preview of the things that you don't agree on. You also give your proposals for resolving the case.
It’s an opportunity to get your position in front of the judge and also the legal reasons why the judge should be giving you the relief that you want.
If your state requires a pre-trial statement, I can't stress how important this statement is. To illustrate this, I was at a family law conference and there was a panel of judges speaking at the conference. They talked about pretrial statements and how important those statements are in framing people's positions for trials.
Some of these judges said that they actually asked the attorneys or the parties to send them a word electronic documents of the pre-trial statement so they can cut and paste. Judges often use portions of a party's pre-trial statements and cut and paste into their decision. So you should be spending a lot of time on your pretrial statements if your state requires one.
In the six weeks before your custody trial, you are thinking about your evidence and the witnesses that you're going to potentially call. You are also starting to narrow down your witnesses' testimony. You're starting to write questions for them. you're starting to outline your potential areas of testimony.
In Arizona when I am doing a custody case one of the things that are very important is to touch on is the best interest of the child factors. In Arizona they're called the A.R.S. § 25-403, the court will determine legal decision-making and parenting time arrangements based on the best interest of the child. When I do the pre-trial statement I hit every one of those best interest factors and use it as the outline for my client's testimony.
I list out every single one of those best interest factors and go into how those apply in my client's case. This gives the judge a preview of what's going to be presented.
Being in custody court can be like being in another world. Sometimes witnesses will get nervous and they may forget or even freak out so that's why it's important to prepare with them ahead of time. It's also important not to over-prepare. You don't want it to look too rehearsed. Here is what you should be doing six weeks before your trial starts if you are calling witnesses:
Write out questions you want to ask and get your witness a copy of the questions.
If you're going try to admit exhibits while a witness is on the stand then make sure they're familiar with those exhibits. There’s nothing worse than showing a witness an exhibit thinking they're going to know what it is and then they have no clue what it is.
Mindset is very important. With an Olympic athlete, it's is really important for them to be in the best physical shape that they can be in. However, Olympic athletes will work on their mental condition just as much as the physical if not more. A lot of times what separates them from the rest of the pack is their mental edge.
Tell yourself that you're going to speak with calm confidence and that you're going to be studied in the law so you can be competent when you get in front of the judge. Personally, meditation helps me get centered and feeling calm when I think I would otherwise be prone to get nervous. For other people, it might be hitting the gym or going for a run, or going for a walk in nature. It’s so important because this is a high-stress situation and you have to be cool as a cucumber.