Are you representing yourself in divorce court? Lots of people do. Modern Divorce Host Billie Tarascio and Julie LaBenz are back to give their insider tips on how to present your divorce case to the judge effectively. The Win-Without-Law-School team answered questions and covered tons of important things you can do now to build your case and make sure the judge hears you - and sides with you.
For instance, you'll learn about:
There's a lot more in this extra episode, so make sure to take notes and pass it along to anyone you know who is going through a divorce without an attorney.
Today's Modern Divorce Podcast is brought to you by our sponsor, Soberlink, the monitoring solution to divorced parents looking for verifiable safe parenting when one is struggling with alcohol addiction. You'll save $50 off your device by going to Soberlink.com/Modern
[00:00:00] Julie LaBenz: Hi everyone. We are gonna get started here.
[00:00:48] Billie Tarascio: Well, I don't know that we we definitely wanna give people a few minutes to join. Right? So we've got a lot going on with Win Without Law School setting up that launch .
[00:00:57] Julie LaBenz: so win without [00:01:00] law school is an amazing creation that Billie and I have brought, you know, have manifested after, gosh, a decade or more, of trying to figure out how to effectively help people representing themselves. Like, we get it, you know, lawyers fees are expensive. We're not just like, oh, $300 an hour, no big deal.
You know, I mean, it's a lot of money. It's a lot, you know, it, it really adds up. And when you're going through a breakup, be it a Divorce, be it a custody situation, like you're already strapped for cash because you had a household where you're combining your resources or maybe you've got a breadwinner, you know, maybe you've got that dynamic.
and now everything's changed and you, you got your own expenses and you know, it's, it's like chaos. And then to add $300 an hour on top of that, [00:02:00] like, yikes. And we get it and we've wanted to help people, but finding a way to do that effectively has been difficult. You know, it's, it's, the law is not straightforward.
It's tough. Everybody's case is different. And technology hasn't been what it was, you know, and online learning wasn't such a normal thing. And so we're at this time now where people are used to learning online and a lot of people are going through some really tough relationship stuff. And so if we can empower people to.
Get themselves to a place in their family dynamic that is so much healthier and do it in a way where it's like the ultimate empowerment tool where you're, you're literally going into court and telling your story and representing yourself. And if you can do that and have success, like [00:03:00] wow. I mean, how, how much more does that put you on your new path as you are leaving this relationship and finding your new identity?
I mean, it's just, it's a really amazing opportunity that we want to create for people. So that's the basis of Win Without Law School an education platform to share what we've learned about Arizona law and family law and courts and judges and dynamics between spouses and co-parents, and making it as easy to understand and as user friendly as we.
I mean, Billie, can you touch upon that, like the challenges over the years of trying to help this, this group that is the majority of people going through the court system?
[00:03:46] Billie Tarascio: Yeah, I absolutely can. You know, it's interesting you brought that up. So when I first started Modern Law 13 years ago, it was to help people who were representing themselves because that's the largest market of family law, [00:04:00] litigants, most people going through court are representing themselves, which meant I saw that as an opportunity to help them and also a business opportunity that the lawyers had not addressed.
And because of regulation, only lawyers were allowed to practice. That's changing and I've tried a lot of ways to reach this market. Never really making a dent. There were a lot of people I helped, but never like on a large scale. And I loved Win Without Law School. It is teaching in with enough specificity, with enough resources online, but also feedback.
And so it's, it's the full package. You're getting live teaching, you're getting recorded materials, you're getting documents you can use. You're getting a community that can support you. I am so excited for this and I really hope that this is the thing, but I also know that I will just always continue to listen to this market and, and figure out how to respond [00:05:00] to people who are representing themselves.
Cuz I love you. I see you.
[00:05:03] Julie LaBenz: Yeah. I've seen so many people struggle in court representing themselves. You know, these days I don't go to court that much. We don't, we're able to do stuff by phone. I mean, things have changed a lot. But early on in my career, I was in court all the time. Mm-hmm. , and I can't tell you how many.
Hours of my life I've spent waiting for my case to be called. Right. Because they do these cattle calls, they set, you know, 50 cases at one time and you just sit and wait until yours is called. I mean, I'm exaggerating a bit with 50, but you get to watch, mm-hmm. a lot of stuff that happens in the courtroom.
And I would see all these self-represented parties coming in. Man, was it tough? And when, the first year I was a lawyer, I was out in park, small town, Parker, Arizona, and I worked as a prosecutor. But when you work in a small town, you do everything mm-hmm. . Okay. There's, they have limited human resources and, and [00:06:00] you're doing it all.
And I was assigned to handle the child support division. A lot of counties have given that task over to the attorney general's office. Yes. And La Paz County has actually done that since, but when I was there, LA Paz County still did it on its own. Wow. And we had a staff of like four child support case workers, non non-lawyers, you know, staff.
And I had to manage them. And I had to go to court and do every single child support case that came through the county. And it was almost all self represented people. So I would see them and people come in, they don't know what an AFI is. They, you know, they don't understand service. They don't know what they're supposed to do.
And some judges are really accommodating. Others are mad . Right. And they get mad that you don't understand these things. Right. And I, my heart would just break cuz I'm like, I know the answers and I'm not allowed to tell them. Right. I can't do anything. And I'm just [00:07:00] like, oh, I wanna go tell them what to say and what to do and I couldn't do anything because they're not my client and it was inappropriate.
And so I just had to sit and watch them struggle. But you know, when without law school's gonna take somebody who wants to put the time in, you know it, this, it's not just gonna be, you join and then poof, like, you know what to do. Right. We're simp, we're certainly trying to simplify it, but it, it's gonna take.
Some effort, and I know there's a lot of people out there who are willing to put in the effort.
[00:07:27] Billie Tarascio: I agree with you. I have watched people effectively represent themselves. You have to put in the work, you have to be organized, you have to get educated, and this is just gonna make it easier for those people who wanna put in the work and help them go from where they're at right now to better.
And don't think for one second, you know that all of us can't get better because we can. I am always working on getting better. Julie's working on getting better. People who have represented themselves, who are still stuck in family court can get better. And that today is about telling your story to a judge.[00:08:00]
So how can someone effectively tell their story? One of the hardest things is what does a judge actually wanna hear?
[00:08:07] Julie LaBenz: What often happens is people go right to the emotional stuff. He did this, she did that. And there's really no tie to the law. There's no chronological storyline, right? There's just this emotional dump , right?
And the judge hears this stuff day in and day out, and it's just like in one ear out the other, and they're like, okay, well, why is this best for your kid? You know, the judge is trying to get it into the law stuff, and they're like, oh, but he's a horrible parent. You know, just using these generalities and this name calling, that does nothing to help the judge because you need to tell a story about what happened.
It's the facts that are really the most persuasive part of a case. And the challenge is that there's a million ways to tell a story, right? [00:09:00] And so what do you highlight and what do you leave out? And that's, as lawyers, what we are so good at, you know, I, oh, that's, I want that fact in and I'm gonna highlight this and oh, I'm gonna really try to ignore this thing,
And so, you know, that does take some, some inside knowledge. But that's the goal, is to find a way to tell the story that really highlights the things that matter,
[00:09:29] Billie Tarascio: right? Yeah. And it's hard to know what are exactly the things that matter. But there are some things that everybody can do to become more effective at telling their story.
And Julie touched on the fact that you, you need a lot more background generally. Mm-hmm. . But the background that they need is the facts. What happened, and when the highlight the timeline. The, like, if you're, if you were in a history project in fifth grade and you built a timeline, it's [00:10:00] almost thinking about it like that.
Like what are the critical events that happened that led to this particular hearing? Now, one of the things that you were gonna talk about is knowing what is the hearing I'm going in for or what is the, the, the motion that I'm arguing bef so that I know how to tell my story. .
[00:10:16] Julie LaBenz: Some people think that, you know, especially self represent parties.
They think at every hearing it's like time to give a closing argument, . But it's not. There's a time and place for a closing argument. And so understanding the procedure and what's gonna happen at each hearing is really important.
Like the judge isn't hearing you and you're getting the short end of the stick and you're not being treated fairly when really it's like, no, this was a resolution management conference. Like, I don't wanna hear any facts. I'm just here to see where you guys are at and are you gonna go to mediation or, or do we need to set a trial date?
Like the judge doesn't wanna hear anything about accusations at what they call an R M C A A resolution management conference. And [00:11:00] so if you're going in and being like, oh, but he or she da da da da, and the judge's like you may think that. The judge doesn't like you or that you know the, the system's against you, but it's just, no, you just, that's you.
You haven't brought your issue to the judge in the proper way to get that thing heard. So you're gonna need to understand what type of hearing you're going into and prepare accordingly. That is probably one of the biggest challenges for self-represented parties because even if you're like, oh, well, it's an R M C, well, okay, you know, what does that even mean?
You need more information than just the name of the hearing to understand what happens at that type of hearing, and then understand like what is expected of you. The
[00:11:47] Billie Tarascio: RMC is a great example because it is set in every case, and it's supposed to be non evidentiary and non argumentative, but people can be left very frustrated when one party.
[00:12:00] Spends that time arguing and testifying and a judge allows them to and doesn't cut it off. And it's, it's the case's first impression in front of a judge and someone can be left feeling very, very frustrated if they didn't get to say their response to those accusations. What do you think about that?
[00:12:20] Julie LaBenz: It's interesting. I have not seen that at an R M C. Don't know why, but I have not seen that . So yeah, that would be tough. That would be really tough. And you know, I would, sometimes it just feels like it doesn't go right. . You also have to remember that the judge may or may not actually remember those arguments that were made that day, right?
Like, is it really gonna change the outcome of your case? Possibly. Or it could just be another day. And the judge heard 50 other things in between now and the time he sees your case again. He's heard a thousand other things and this meant nothing, and he doesn't even [00:13:00] remember. Don't know. But you know, that's just where if you understand the context of the hearing, you may be ready to make a really powerful objection and say, judge, right, objection.
This is A R M C, right? Let's talk about scheduling. I stop slandering me,
[00:13:20] Billie Tarascio: right? I love that. You know, I love that because you have the ability to stand up for yourself, to make your point to say, your Honor, I know that you don't wanna hear my rebuttal to all of those things, which I do not agree with because we're here for an R M C and this is what I'm asking you to do today at the rmc.
Like that is powerful. .
[00:13:38] Julie LaBenz: And I can see a judge being like, you're right. Let's move on. Right. Okay. What are we doing next? Mm-hmm. . I agree. And this is the thing that so many people don't know, is the judges are rooting for the self-represented parties. They like, they want them to do well. Like they want a smooth experience with these self-represented parties.
[00:14:00] And I've seen judges help suffer self-represented parties to no end. And so if you can come in and you're prepared and the judge is like, wow, I mean the judge may wanna help you even more. So getting this information and being part of when without law school could be really valuable. Okay. So understand the type of hearing you have, prepare for that and, and.
Let's say it's the type of hearing where you do get an opportunity to tell your story. It's, it's some sort of evidentiary hearing. Okay. Could, it could be on a motion for temporary orders, it could be a final trial. It could be a oral argument on a contested issue. Always remember that the judge has hundreds of cases.
You need to know that this time you have with the judge is really important, and when you talk, you need to make it so that it's something that the judge is going to remember. I'm not saying it needs to be [00:15:00] catchy. I'm not saying it needs to be like something totally polished, but it needs to be something that the judge is gonna be like, oh yeah, they have a daughter named Sarah, and Sarah is seven and she has special needs. You need to make things really clear for the judge about why your argument is important,
[00:15:23] Billie Tarascio: right? What is different about my story? What is unique about my story? How do I not become lost in the sea of all of the other divorces?
And then, I mean, unless you have an uncontested Divorce, and then maybe that doesn't matter and you can be lost in the sea. But like, if you really have a contested issue where you need a judge to make a decision then you need to not be lost in the sea. And you have to give enough background. Many times it's easy for us to jump into our argument, assuming that the judge feels the same way about the past and about what the facts are.
As you do so, you might lay out the facts. [00:16:00] And then have a conclusion in your head and expect them to jump to that same conclusion. So going back to what we were talking about, you're making the timeline, right? You're dropping the facts, but then you also have to spell out, and these facts mean X for my case because my, my case is special and here's y
[00:16:15] Julie LaBenz: right? And I also like to create a visual for the judge. Hmm. So let's talk about custody, cuz I'm sure that's, you know, what is one of the most common case types of our audience? Pictures of the child's room, you know, just showing what life is like for the child with me. Mm-hmm. like, this is the life I can provide this child.
And it seems very simple, but again, the judge has hundreds of cases and now the judge has an opportunity to see a picture of what. Really, you know, and then it could go further into other stuff too, but, you know, individualizing your case can be important and it could, and, and just [00:17:00] having that as a guide, as you're creating your case, I think can be very helpful.
[00:17:06] Billie Tarascio: Yeah, I totally agree with you. And, and it's hard to know how much, right? You don't, you don't have time to flip through your entire photo album, your entire baby album. You won't have time for that. But you do have time when you're talking about the, the best interest factors when they're asking you what can you describe your relationship with your child, if you say, you know, we worked on this project together.
And I'm so proud of him, like, look at what this child did. And he got a hundred percent and we did it together, and that was great. That was one of the things we like to do. We also go to the movies. We do this, we do this. Like now when the judge has to make findings, he has to think of something to say or she, in the, in the ruling, they don't have an option.
They have to put something in and you've given them something to put in as opposed to just," Mom said it was good."
[00:17:51] Julie LaBenz: Yeah. And, and that's, that's so such a key point is starting with. You know, this conclusion [00:18:00] of what you wanna show and then identifying those facts. Mm-hmm. that illuminate that point. Mm-hmm.
and then testifying to those, or eliciting those on direct examination or having to exhibit that, you know, illustrates the point you're making. It's just, if you're just gonna get up there and go on and on and on, oh, and then the dog barked, and then I open the door like the judge is human. The judge is gonna tune out.
Like we're all human. And so engage, you know, tell an engaging story. And it's not that you have to be some expert storyteller, it's about crafting your story around compelling facts.
[00:18:43] Billie Tarascio: Yes, yes. So what, what, and this is hard. So I, what, what I think you need to do when you're thinking about telling your story, first figure out what type of hearing am I going into, and then ask yourself what decisions is [00:19:00] the judge going to be making?
What is on the table? What decisions is the judge going to be making? Then ask yourself, what do I want the judge to decide? Yeah. Then after, you know so let's take the custody example. I want the judge to order my child stay with me during the week and have weekends only with dad. If that is what you want, now you know what you have to prove, and now you know the story you have to tell, and then you're going back and you're finding the applicable statutes and you're determining what evidence in my story meets the elements of this statute.
So it's a very systematic way to figure out how to tell your story.
[00:19:42] Julie LaBenz: Yes. And this, like, Billie, what you just explained is the step-by-step process that we take as lawyers mm-hmm. when we prepare for hearings mm-hmm. , right? Right. Okay. What type of hearing is this? Okay. What, all right. What do I want the judge to do?
Okay. How am I gonna [00:20:00] get him there, him or her? Right. Right. And that's what you've just laid out. And that's what went without law school is gonna teach in a, in a more in depth manner. You know, showing, okay, here's the statute, like taking you to those places in the law to help simplify it. But that is so true, and a big question to always come back to is why, you know, from the judge's perspective, why should the judge rule for me on this issue?
And on that issue, you know, on the parenting time, why is this best for our child that my proposed parenting plan go into place? Why should we have joint legal decision making? You know, all of those things, that could be a really good starting point. If you're like, I don't even know where to go with this.
Oh my gosh, there's so much that's happened, right? Okay, let's break this down. okay, what do I want? What am I asking the judge to do? And then why is this best for our child or children? And then how do I, you know, events [00:21:00] illustrate that? So if, for example, let's, let's stick with what Billie said with mom during the week with dad on the weekends and your mom.
Talk about the structure. I would even create a one page exhibit that had a general week of what it looks like at my house. You know, it would just, you know, on Excel spreadsheet I'd have the times, the days kids are in school, this is what we do. Then we do homework, boom. Now the judge has one document that could take a half hour to explain, but now it's boom, it's there.
Yeah. This is what we do every week. And this is when we spend time and, and we exercise here and we eat well here and, and they go to bed by here and their homework's done. And look, oh, and then exhibit two, here's their report cards. And here's when they were spending more time with dad and what their report card looked like.
And now that the, we've got this really nice schedule in place, this is what, you know, that's going to prove why the kids being with you during the [00:22:00] week is best for them. So now you're not just like, well, dad doesn't get them to bed on time and da da da. And it's not just all these accusations about dad, it's now changing it to the kids.
And why this is working so well for the kids. And of course you can throw those jabs in at dad along the way, but your whole presentation isn't just now, dad sucks. It's like Right. Or deeper than that. And more detailed,
[00:22:27] Billie Tarascio: right. The, the more you can humanize your kids, if you're, if you're arguing for, if you're arguing for that, that you keep your children during the week, you need to know what an uphill battle you have.
Because culturally and philosophically, judges want both parents involved in all aspects of parenting, which, you know, that's not exactly how intact married couples function. Mm-hmm. , it is not unusual for intact married couples to delineate roles. [00:23:00] The culture has judges really moving in a direction where they want both parents to have the opportunity to do all of those things.
But if you can talk about how dad, how dad having the child on the weekends is the, is the best for the, for the child because here are the things dad does with dad, with the child on the weekends that the child really loves. And here's the things that mom does with the child during the week that the child really loves.
And how this really serves the child's best interests and maximizes the strength of each parent. Ooh. Like that's a, that's a compelling argument.
[00:23:30] Julie LaBenz: Exactly. All right. I think we've covered that point pretty well. The next point is, is related, but it's a little bit different. And it's to when you go into this contested hearing where you have the opportunity to tell your story, pretend that the judge, like you're meeting the judge for the first time and the judge knows nothing.
about your case because you're going to tell your story in a more detailed way. Mm-hmm. , if that's the approach. Cuz you're not gonna be like, oh yeah. And [00:24:00] then they went there and she said that, and I did this, and he made that. You know, and the judge is like, well, who's he them there where you, you really need to be specific with names and explaining, you know, you can't just start talking about Mimi and not explain that Mimi is the paternal grandmother, or Mimi is my mom.
You know, you need to lay out who Mimi is. Otherwise the judge is not gonna really be listening to you and instead be thinking who's Mimi, who's Mimi, who's, and not really be hearing the rest of the story. Right? So you need to lay that background about who each person is and, and have that support the whole story.
Otherwise, there's gonna be a lot of holes in the story and the judge is gonna be confused.
[00:24:46] Billie Tarascio: I think it's important to note that people underestimate the amount of time it takes to write a good story. When I am representing a client and I am writing a pretrial statement or a motion and I'm [00:25:00] doing my best work, I'm going back and rewriting that three times,
[00:25:04] Julie LaBenz: at least.
[00:25:05] Billie Tarascio: At least. And does that take a lot of time? It does. But if somebody's relocation's on the line, then me making a chart that compares, you know, life in X place versus life in Y place, and all of the characters in all of the locations, and then cutting out anything that doesn't serve the argument like you, it takes a lot of time and effort and it is worth it.
[00:25:31] Julie LaBenz: And this is the thing, you know your case the best. Mm-hmm. , like for us, we're constructing somebody else's life. Mm-hmm. , and, you know, trying to piece out the details and call it, oh, whoop, then what happened then? And mm-hmm. , you know, we're like doing all that stuff. Like, if you're represent, representing yourself, you already know all of this stuff.
So that is very helpful.
[00:25:52] Billie Tarascio: And one of the best things you could do if you're on our, if you're on our Facebook page, you know that there are a million people in [00:26:00] here going through the same thing. You are not a million, but, you know, 850. Find somebody that you're not friends with. Ask them to read your story.
They don't know you, they haven't heard about it day by day detail by detail. Let them read your story and l and ask them, what did you, colt, what did you think? After you read my story, did you feel like there were any holes? Because the judge is that person, he or she is a stranger. They, they don't know you, they don't know your kids.
They don't know your case.
[00:26:29] Julie LaBenz: That's such a good point too, because if you're really angry, you could write a story that's just so biased. Yes. And so uncompelling because it's just you, you know, dumping all of your emotions. Yes. The, the pretrial statement is not your journal . No. And so having somebody else read it could be really helpful to, you know, address, tone, address, you know, angling arguments so it's [00:27:00] less throwing mud at the other side and more.
Artfully throwing the mud so that it's more positioned to support the law and what's, you know, on the table. So I think that's a great idea of having a neutral out total outsider. Read it to see if they're like, oh, you, you come off pretty bitter here. Or if they're like, oh no, I was crying. I was, I, you gotta win this case.
Your kids have to be with you. I, I'm, I'm, you've, I'm sold. You know, what is the response?
[00:27:28] Billie Tarascio: Right? Same thing when you're asking your questions of your witness, like letting somebody who does not, who has not heard your case before hear that will help you determine, did I really, did I, did I leave gaps?
Because it's, it's, it's easy to leave gaps when you're telling your story to the judge.
[00:27:47] Julie LaBenz: Oh, definitely. Yeah. You don't even realize it. Right. And then somebody else is like, but wait, how did you get from. 2015 to 2020. Like, what, what happened in those five years? I'm confused. Right? And you're like, oh, [00:28:00] nothing.
That's why I left it out. Nothing happened. It's like, well still, you know, at least say something about it cuz it's confusing. It sounds like you're trying to hide something.
[00:28:08] Billie Tarascio: Right? Right. So we do wanna leave time for q and a. Do we have any other points on telling our story?
[00:28:17] Julie LaBenz: There's one final point, which is if you can, you know, look to identify three to five major points you wanna make and craft your story around that.
And then once you've got your story figured out, tell your story over and over again. You know, that's kind of how it goes, is you wanna be consistent.
[00:28:39] Billie Tarascio: That's a great point. If you go back and watch our past Facebook Lives, we've talked about creating a theme and theory for the case. We've talked about how, how you're telling a story and these stories involve characters and how you need to be in character and tell that story consistently at the same time.
So definitely if go back and watch those, if that's something that you're, you're having a [00:29:00] hard time figuring out, well how do I come down to three to five points? You know, if you've got your theme and you've got your theory and you know what you want, then you can really come up with the three to five points.
The other thing I would again tell you that is helpful is sometimes letting an outsider read something a and then having them tell you this was what was most critical for me. That can be very helpful because something that you might not think is a big deal could be like the real, a real thing to focus on.
I'll move on to the, to the TikTok questions. Okay. All right. So how do you word abuse when he tells the kids not to say anything? Can you say that again? How do you, the comment says how do you word abuse?
But I think what we're, what we're saying here is, I think if I'm reading between the lines, what you're saying is the kids have disclosed to you that they're being abused or mistreated, and. They have told you, they [00:30:00] have sworn you to secrecy and said, do not say anything and maybe you've committed to not saying anything because you wanna create a s a s Oh, animal abuse.
So apparently the kids have disclosed animal abuse in one parent's home, but said, please don't tell. What can she do about that?
[00:30:18] Julie LaBenz: Okay. So I wanna give a couple disclaimers first before we jump into this. Billie and I don't become your attorneys by being on this q and a. We're giving legal information.
This isn't legal advice. Legal advice is one-on-one where we sit down and, and really get into all the in depth. This is just general information. And we are both licensed to practice law in Arizona. So this is based on Arizona as well. Okay, so this is a tough one. I generally want. To try to create a situation where the parent who is getting the report [00:31:00] is not the one making the accusation.
Right. Right. Because
[00:31:07] Billie Tarascio: find a way. I, I mean, I just, I completely agree with you. Like if you as mom have been sworn to secrecy and you wanna protect that with your children, you kind of gotta convince them to tell somebody else. Right.
[00:31:18] Julie LaBenz: Not only that, but I feel like if you come in and start accusing your ex, it, the, it's just gonna turn into this denial and, oh, you thi like, I think it's just going to be this, he said, she said, and then maybe they make some changes and they aren't abusing the animals in front of the kids, or, or maybe they keep doing it, doing it worse and are like, you know, mind manipulating the kids more.
But I feel like if you. Come in and make the accusation that it's gonna be met with a lot of resistance. But if a government agency comes in or you know, a neighbor reports or a [00:32:00] teacher, a mandatory reporter at school, you know, then it's a whole different situation that you don't have your hands in and it's gonna unfold the way it unfolds.
I would also look to put the kids in counseling if you can, because if they start reporting to the counselor, that can be a whole different thing. And, and also if they have been exposed to animal abuse, they should get some sort of counseling cuz that's very traumatic.
[00:32:23] Billie Tarascio: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's great stuff.
Okay, so another question that came up on TikTok that I think is such a good question. This person is going into a temporary orders hearing and she is being accused of having mental illness and. Therefore not being able to take care of her children. And she says that she is in counseling. And so I wanna, I wanna address this, not just with mental illness, but this, this, this is the same situation.
If you've been accused of being an alcoholic, if you've been accused of being a drug user or if you've accused of being physical, abuser, unwell, physically [00:33:00] abusive, like, and there may be some truth to it, what do you do?
[00:33:07] Julie LaBenz: So first of all, I would be getting into the facts. Mm-hmm. , because this just, I'm being accused of not, you know, being mentally ill.
Well, that's very broad and that's hard. Yeah. How do you defend against just mentally ill? Like there, there needs to be some sort of factual allegations that they're making to support that blatant allegation. So that's what you're going to be wanting to create or find counter evidence to and really focus on in your case.
So, Those however many instances of bad acts that they're claiming you engaged in that are proof that you're mentally ill, do you have evidence to counter them? Do you have an explanation, do you think it's not true? I would be looking to break down and, and [00:34:00] refute as many or all of those if possible.
Yes. The other thing is being honest, right? You know, if, if there are some of those instances where you did mess up and it doesn't look good, I wouldn't be coming in and trying to minimize it or it did like, cuz that can really rub judges the wrong way if they don't think that, you know, you're really taking accountability.
But if you can come in and explain a little more detail about what happened and how you learned from it, and you won't do that again. I mean, you're gonna have to, again, you should get specific legal advice on this. This is pretty. Difficult area, but I find that could be better because if it happened, it happened.
And it's true. If you come in and you're just trying, oh, well, it wasn't that big of a deal, and Oh, the kids are fine, like, that doesn't look good. But if you're like, you know what, it was bad and I, I messed up and I'm never gonna do that again, and I'm [00:35:00] sorry. I think that can be better. But again, it's, it, you really have to, I, I'd have to know the exact facts, right.
I'd have to know a lot more to explain exactly how to handle these types of allegations. . Yeah.
[00:35:14] Billie Tarascio: These are very serious cases where you're being accused of, you know being, being unable to take care of your children or an alcoholic or, let's say, I mean, and there's so much of this right now.
Sometimes someone will, will know that they are having a mental health crisis and then check themselves into an inpatient treatment facility. And that you, in that case, like you, you really, really, really have to talk to a lawyer because we can help you figure out how to, how to address that. And it may be that you can address that by saying You know, really what I was experiencing wasn't that big of a deal.
It never negatively impacted the kids. I'm, I [00:36:00] always made arrangements for them to be fine, and I just wanted to be my best self, and this was how I got myself there. And it's never, I negatively impacted the kids. And as long as you, if, if that's the truth and you can lay that out, then the fact that you went to a mental health inpatient treatment center should not, in and of itself be a problem if you attempted suicide in front of your children, which is something that I have seen.
You don't wanna minimize that, you know, you don't wanna minimize that at all. That's hugely horrifically traumatic to your children, even though I know it also was awful and traumatic for you, but in court, the court, the court doesn't wanna hear about how awful it was for you and how you were. They just don't, they wanna know how, how do, how are you going to take care of your children?
So these are very difficult situations. I completely agree with Julie. The advice. Totally depends on the facts and the circumstances and what happened. Not just mental illness, but what happened. That's leading to [00:37:00] the allegation because in and of itself, let's say that the allegation is simply you're mentally ill, you're taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, which happens.
What that comes up, I think something like 40% of the population is taking anti-anxiety or depression medication. That is a non-issue in family court. That in and of itself is a non-issue. Have you seen that as well?
[00:37:22] Julie LaBenz: It doesn't even come up. Yeah. I mean, I, I don't see it being, it, it's more extreme allegations.
Mm-hmm. , but yeah, just the taking of the prescribed pills, like that's just kind of run of the mill. Right. It's not anything that, now if you're abusing them Adderall is an amphetamine and it can be abused. Mm-hmm. that's a different situation. But if you're taking an antidepressant, According to how it's been prescribed.
Right? Good luck making any big deal out of just the fact that they're taking the prescription alone, right? Like, [00:38:00] that alone is gonna mean nothing. Right. I think another angle to this is, you know, an event happens and by the time a judge hears about it, there can be months that pass, you know, there could be an emergency temporary order that brings it to the 10 judge's attention immediately.
On the flip side, there's, you know, a lot of situations where there could be six months or more that pass between the horrible event and the judge, you know, making a decision about it. So what are you doing in those six months to position yourself to look better? . Mm-hmm. . Because if you were like it was no big deal and nothing's happened since, and I'm fine, that's not believ.
But if you're, like, I got, I started counseling, I started family counseling with the child, and here's some counseling reports. [00:39:00] And I am, I'm doing all of this wellness stuff. Like I, I'm in anger management, I'm in Alcoholics Anonymous, you know, like the judge is gonna start to kind of wanna be your cheerleader, like support you on this wellness path.
But if you come in and you're like, oh, everything's fine, I'm not doing, I don't need any, I don't need counseling. Like the judge is gonna be like, oh, I don't trust you. Right,
[00:39:26] Billie Tarascio: right. And a lot of this is like, one of the things that we do in these cases is we evaluate like, well, how does the judge feel about you today?
We can usually tell by the orders and then we can decide, okay, you need, you need some rehabilitation in, in front of the judge and that might mean you cannot drink. Or you have to sign up for soberlink and proactively sh demonstrate that you are sober during all of your visits. Or you need to be drug testing even though the court has not ordered you to, [00:40:00] because you're, you're eliminating that possibility when you get to trial that, that, you know, dad says, mom's a drug user.
And mom says, dad's been saying this for a year, and I don't know where he gets it. And here are my tests. That is effective that is much more effective than, you know, saying, nuh. But so sometimes these accusations are completely and wholly unfounded and untrue and other times there is truth to it. And, and if you don't face what's going on and deal with it, head on and address it and be honest about it with the help of your attorney to the extent of your honesty, you can have a really hard time rehabilitating yourself in front of a judge and you can end up in a very bad position in family court.
[00:40:42] Julie LaBenz: I want to touch upon this for a moment. From the other side, from the person making the accusation where it, it's a valid accusation. Mm-hmm. , and they have concerns about the safety of their children. Mm-hmm. , one fallacy I often see is [00:41:00] the parent doesn't actually gather the evidence. Mm-hmm. , they'll be like, oh, I didn't ask her for B, B, B because I knew she'd say no.
And it's like, well, you can't go into, you can't go into court with just this speculation. No, you need to have actual evidence. And so don't just, oh, I know how they're gonna respond, so I'm not even gonna try like that. That's not compelling in court. So you're gonna need to be a bit more proactive with show, with gathering the evidence to show that this is the true way that this person is Also, you know, if, if you're the one with the concerns there have been, there's some recent case law that those, you know, if the person's gotten any sort of psychiatric treatment or counseling, those records are fair game to get through disclosure or through a subpoena.
So you, you know, you actually can dive into these mental [00:42:00] health records and seek to use them in the case. And then also remember that the evidence is gonna be really focused on the children. So despite any bad acts between you and the co-parent, if those don't happen or affect the children, it's not, it, it could be important still, but it's not gonna be as compelling to something that's related to the children.
So just remember to always re, you know, focus your arguments around the children and how. Mom or dad's erratic behavior is impacting them.
[00:42:35] Billie Tarascio: And let's, let's just highlight what Julie just said. Erratic behavior, not possible diagnosis. So I see a lot of people who wanna prove that so-and-so's a narcissist.
Mm-hmm. Doesn't matter, right? And maybe so, so, so maybe you've read up all about narcissism and all about coercive control and you know, in your mind that that should be enough. That's your position. A [00:43:00] narcissistic parent who's, you know, formally had x, y, Z behavior cannot be a good parent. And therefore, that's all I have to prove.
Understand that the legal system isn't, isn't there, isn't with you, is not on the same page as you, doesn't wanna hear it, does not want to hear it. They want to hear how has this person's specific behavior that happened on X, Y, Z events affected your specific children, Because some children are highly affected by yelling and discipline and other children are.
And they can live with a parent who yells and be fine. And some children are shutting down and unable to perform in school and, experiencing anxiety because of behavior that other children might not, you know, experience that way. Like it's important for us to tell the specific story of the characters involved.
[00:43:47] Julie LaBenz: So Billie, if you've gone in and you've told an effective story, you don't need to say the word narcissist. Right. The judge is already thinking it. Right. If you tell an effective story and you highlight three to [00:44:00] five examples Yeah. That scream narcissism, you don't even need to say the word. Right.
Right. And that
[00:44:06] Billie Tarascio: is a much, much, much more effective way of getting the judge to do what you want him or her to do. One question we've got here is what if the other party who's unrepresented is lying about things and no evidence is present? And it makes me feel on the defensive. To try to make the judge realize I'm not this person.
So we need to talk about discovery, I think. And when you're representing yourself, how much work it is, you can't just go into court without evidence. And that goes o both ways. Like you have to gather evidence both ways. If somebody's accusing you of something, you have to gather evidence to show they're wrong.
You can't just go in and say, Nu-uh,
[00:44:49] Julie LaBenz: I mean you can, but , I don't recommend it. It's not gonna be as effective because now you've got a he said, she said, mm-hmm. . And again, think about your judge. He said [00:45:00] this, she said that, I don't know these people,
[00:45:02] Billie Tarascio: right? So if there's accusations that you are, you know, that you were fired from your job, or that you are, unstable or whatever, you're going to have to be prepared to show the judge.
It's not true. I am stable and maybe I did lose this job, but I got this job and people lose jobs, you know, so you ha you have to address the accusations, which can be so frustrating sometimes because you're there to talk about something and their, their strategy might be just to hurl accusations.
Mm-hmm. . And you have to
[00:45:34] Julie LaBenz: address them. And actually, what I've found is the, the people that hurl the most accusations are the ones who are doing the worst stuff, , mm-hmm. . And usually the accusations they make are actually the things they're doing. Hmm. And so it, it, it, it creates a lot of problems because you do have to defend against the accusations.
Okay. You can't just let it stand and be like, oh, [00:46:00] but that's not true. The judge isn't gonna believe that. Well, you need to show the judge why. And I've encountered that a lot, especially with people who. Like have, are kind of naive and, and are principled and they're just like, oh, but that's nonsense. And they'll know.
And it's like, well, we need to show that that's not just accepted. Right. And so yeah, you're, it's this delicate balance where you are defending while also making accusations. So it's defense and offense back and forth. And in law school they called it the shield and the sword. Do you remember that? Yes.
You know, you're putting up the shield and defending and other times you're, you know, striking with the sword and, and you're gonna have to do both, but this is where you need to break it down. Okay. Because it can get really confusing if you have five different accusations lodged against you. First of all, identify the five [00:47:00] and figure out five reasons why it's a no and try to simplify it.
As much as possible. But this is where you really need to tune in and separate emotion from reason, because you can get just buried in the emotions of this. Mm-hmm. , because this has likely been the, the dynamic between you and this co-parent. You know, this probably isn't the first time they've made accusations against you.
That may have been one of the reasons you split up. And so you likely have this set pattern where you go into scared defensive mode that's just like out of fear. It's not a calculated reason based, law based argument. And that's where you're going to need to take that deep breath, let some of these emotions go and focus on your judge.
I tell my clients this all the time. [00:48:00] When we get in the courtroom, who cares about the other side? The judge is the decision maker, right? I don't care what the other side thinks. I don't care what the other attorney thinks, right? The judge is all I care about, and it's the same thing that you should care about.
So it doesn't really matter what your ex is saying to you. What does the judge think about it and what do you need to show the judge to convince the judge that these things aren't true or that you are a good parent or whatever the accusation is. The other
[00:48:29] Billie Tarascio: thing I want to just say that we've said over and over again that I'll never stop saying is that litigation and family court and taking your case in front of a judge is not recommended.
It is not the best move most of the time, most of the time, and and the consequences are not just, let's say you win. You've still damaged that relationship with a person that you have to continue to co-parent with. If you can find a way to [00:49:00] mediate and to come up with something you can both live with, you are creating a more peaceful relationship between the two of you, which absolutely does spill over to your children.
So I'm not saying give away the farm, but I'm saying give mediation an opportunity to work and be willing to show up day after day and be open to changing the dynamic and coming up with new solutions. I know it's hard.
[00:49:26] Julie LaBenz: Do you think we have time for one more question? I think
[00:49:29] Billie Tarascio: we do. Let's see. So, yeah. One question that I've got here is, there's a 50 50 parenting plan. And when the kid is with dad, the child is a kindergartner.
Dad lives 25 ish minutes away, and the kindergartner is tardy a lot with dad and mom doesn't think it's in the child's best interest to have 50 50 or live with dad because of the tardies. There's not really a question. [00:50:00] I, I
[00:50:02] Julie LaBenz: don't know. I mean, I don't think it's enough to take to court just, you know, just the tardies for especially a kindergartner if it was a high school with tardies that.
Could be a bit more compelling, but for kindergarten, I, I don't see you getting very far with just that one point. And this is what's so tough about co-parenting, is you have certain expectations and ways you want things to go. And your co-parent isn't necessarily gonna agree and things may just have to be a little sloppy for a little bit and it's kindergarten.
But maybe with time things can shift and, you know, people move around and the school's gonna be at a different location and maybe it's not 25 minutes away and right.
[00:50:50] Billie Tarascio: Like you, you, things are not gonna be perfect. You gotta kind of lower your standards when you're, when you're co-parenting because [00:51:00] things are not gonna be perfect and you've given up control.
And, and some acceptance helps with that. There's a really good question we got. At what point does discovery begin? Is it when there's a requirement for the opposing side to provide medical records or does it begin be before filing?
[00:51:17] Julie LaBenz: That's a great question. So there's, there's two pieces if we're gonna be technical.
There's disclosure and there's discovery. They're similar, but they're a little bit different. So disclosure is controlled by Rule 49 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, and Rule 49 lists out all of the information and documents that each side is required to share with each other. And Rule 49 says that the, this obligation starts 40 days after the response to the petition is filed.
There are some different rules for post decree matters. [00:52:00] So I'm, I'm really focused on like a child custody establishment case or a Divorce case. But Rule 49 lays out, you know, bank statements credit card statements, real estate deeds and then things related to children too are listed in there.
So each side has an obligation to exchange a certain amount of information per rule. 49, 40 days after a response is filed, you have a continuing duty of disclosure thereafter. And part of the disclosure is all the exhibits you wanna use the list of witnesses and their, you know, a summary of their testimony.
And then there's discovery. And discovery is where, okay, the stuff within Rule 49 isn't everything that I want from the other side. There's actually some additional documents that I. You can get those through what's called a request for production, or maybe there's certain facts that you want to see if they're agreed to or not.
You [00:53:00] can do a request for admissions asking the other side to admit or deny certain factual allegations. There's what are called interrogatories and there's a set of uniform interrogatories that are like 50 different questions that are these set questions related to family law that can go out and you're supposed to tailor 'em because not every question's gonna apply to every case, but you can send those out and ask the other side to answer.
Or you can do non uniform, non-uniform interrogatories where you create your own special question. So discovery is something you have to. Or pound you have to send out on your own and ask the other side to respond to, or the other side can ask you, you know, serve you with a discovery request. But if neither side serves a discovery request, then there is no discovery that's taking place.
A deposition, you know, is another type . But the disclosure is required by both sides. And so if the other side hasn't provided the proper disclosure, you can get the court involved. But when does that [00:54:00] start? That starts 40 days after. I mean, as far as gathering it, you can start gathering it before then.
That's helpful. Any other thoughts on that, Billie?
[00:54:09] Billie Tarascio: Well, I mean, honestly, we could spend an hour on disclosure and discovery and we should. It's, it's a super important topic. There are some other questions about CAAs that's also like, we could do an hour on ti CAAs Kobe's, and we should, but we are out of time for today. And thank you all for being here. Thank you Julie.
[00:54:28] Julie LaBenz: Thank you . Thank you. Also if you wanna join our email list, go to Win Without Law School.com/home and you, it'll. Anyways, it'll take you to an email sign up. So go there, sign up for our email list, we'll have more information about when without law school.
[00:54:45] Billie Tarascio: I am so excited about this class. I think it's going to make self representing just go to the next level. So absolutely, go sign up.
We can't wait to start. Thank you all and we'll talk soon. [00:55:00]