Many people don’t know what evidence might be used in a family law hearing. Obviously, most parents don’t know what to expect in any given hearing. So, it makes sense for many parents to produce every shed of evidence their lawyer might need in court. Clients often show up to our office with binders full of printed emails, screen shots of text chains, and other evidence against the other parent. Unfortunately, clients often become frustrated if their evidence isn’t eventually used in court. Why don’t lawyers use the gold mine of evidence the client produces to help the case?
Evidence vs. Information
The court requires information that helps it make good decisions. We call useful information evidence. Information that has no probative value doesn’t contribute to the case. At best, mere information wastes time and money. At worst, useless information distracts the court from important facts. As a result, savvy lawyers work to enter evidence to help their clients’ cases. Conversely, competent lawyers work to keep useless, distracting information out of the hearing. This includes trying to suppress the information the other side considers to be evidence.
The Relevance Test for Evidence
A family law hearing only addresses specific topics. For a more robust discussion of how hearings work, see our blog about this topic. Since only certain topics are discussed at any given hearing, information presented must apply to those topics. For example, in a custody hearing, evidence of family violence makes sense, while information about the value of the marital home doesn’t apply. Likewise, at a hearing on whether to sell the home, information about a cheating spouse likely doesn’t matter.
Bottom line: Any information in court must be relevant to the hearing being held. While a piece of evidence may be useful in the case, it may not be useful at any given hearing.
Hearsay Test for Evidence
We hear about hearsay evidence on every lawyer show on TV, but hearsay is a real problem in court. The courts follow rules about the admissibility of hearsay, and the rules can be complicated. Evidence produced by clients often includes hearsay in large quantities. Printouts of text chains between parent and child is a prime example. Likewise, email chains between parents and counselors count as hearsay. Hearsay can’t be used as evidence by the court even if it would be super useful in the case. The rules are the rules.
Bottom line: A client might produce binders full of printed emails and texts, but that doesn’t mean the court will accept those communications as evidence.
Time Constraints and Evidence
Most Family law cases get underway in earnest at the first hearing for temporary orders. A tragic fact is that the court can’t possibly hear all of the evidence available in every case. There isn’t time in the day for that. A common practice among court in family law hearings is to give both sides a time limit to make their whole case. In fact, some courts use the timers typically used in chess matches to keep time for the two sides! Even without a set time limit given by the court, prepare for the court to be done with your hearing at close of business or at lunch time. You may get your day in court, but don’t expect a day; expect less than an hour of the court’s time total for a hearing.
We believe it is all but impossible for the courts to do their most thoughtful work when the parents only get 30 minutes per side or less to argue their case. But reality is what it is. So, if we only get a tiny amount of time to educate the court on why we should win, there’s no time for anything that isn’t the most impactful evidence. So, don’t be offended when your lawyer doesn’t use one single print out of a text chain. That information you have about the other parent’s work problems? Not going to be used in a 30-minute custody hearing. Only relevant evidence comes in to any given hearing.
Preparation for hearings includes gathering evidence and preparing to present it. However, only the evidence needed in the hearing makes the cut. Using evidence that doesn’t inform the court about something useful wastes precious time in a hearing. Additionally, spending valuable hearing time to discuss useless information means the court doesn’t hear your crucial evidence. Without the crucial evidence, the court may make an ill-informed decision that costs you thousands of dollars in future litigation.
A competent family lawyer employs valuable evidence in the client’s favor and seeks to keep the other side’s evidence out of the hearing. A really good attorney prioritizes the evidence he or she wishes to use in a hearing because there’s no time for every piece of information. Which evidence has the most bang for the buck in court? The ability to assess the quality and value of evidence is a key characteristic of successful family lawyers.
Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas family law firm focusing on helping people get through the divorce process so they can get on with the rest of their lives. This essay is intended for educational use only, and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information contact us at (817) 601-5345, find us on the web at youngblood-law.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/youngbloodlawPLLC/