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192 - How Procrastination Hurts Your Child Custody Case

192 - How Procrastination Hurts Your Child Custody Case Image

03/30/2021 2:00 pm

As a follow up to episode 191, Leh and Todd take a deep dive into the impact of procrastination on child custody cases. They go through each phase of a case involving a contested custody matter, break down the negative impact of procrastination and discuss how not to procrastinate. The aspects of the case they walk through include:

  • Guardian ad Litem & Custody Evaluation

  • Mediation

  • Temporary Hearing

  • Final Hearing

Transcript

Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. You will learn about divorce, family law from time to time, even tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. I know Todd, you've been trying to push off today's topic, but we got to get to it.

Todd Orston: You are a taskmaster. I've got better things to do. No, I'm kidding. I'm joking. I have nothing better to do than be here with you speaking about issues. But jokes aside, again, we are going to be talking about procrastination. And that's not a good thing. We're not promoting procrastination. We are talking about why in the legal context, in many contexts, but in the legal context, procrastination does not help you. And specifically, today, we're going to be talking about procrastinating behavior in the context of a custody case, when you're dealing with custody issues. And why it can be a killer to your case, it can absolutely do serious long term damage to your custody case, simply because your, as Lee and I were talking, because you're sitting on your hands and just electing to do nothing. And so we're going to talk about some of the dangers related to procrastination relating to a custody case.

Leh Meriwether: So last week, we talked about... In general, we were talking about procrastinating to take legal action. And we talked about whether it's child custody support, or legitimation action, if perhaps it was a divorce where you were concerned about someone liquidating assets or leaving the state with the children, or filing a modification or contempt action. We're talked about the dangers of procrastinating taking legal action. And it was very specific, because we're always trying to encourage people to work on their marriage where possible, or work on the relationship, work on a co-parenting relationship. So these were specific exceptions to the general advice we give. Because there are certain people that you just unfortunately, you have to take to court in order to protect your rights and perhaps, in some situations, protect your children.

Leh Meriwether: So we're going to talk about specifically how procrastination hurts your child custody case. And one of the things that I'll never forget, we go to this... So as lawyers, we have to do this what's called continuing legal education. And it's something we do all the time. And we have to do it every year. And often what we do is, we go to this thing called the family law conference. It's a three-day event, and it's focused on family law, and just practical, everything from changes in the law that we're still up on all the time, but we do that to fulfill our requirement as lawyers.

Leh Meriwether: But one of the my favorite family law conferences had throughout the course of a day, judges come up. So we had this huge panel of judges all day, and they would come up, and they would give what they thought were ideal opening statements and ideal closing arguments. And it was very insightful, because it's very helpful to hear from the judges like, "Here, this is what I want to hear from y'all."

Leh Meriwether: And so one judge got up in particular, and she talked about, one of the struggles she has as a judge is in what's called opening statement. And that's not what you're arguing. You're just telling the judge, "Hey judge, here are what facts we're about to present to you in this case." And she quoted, I forgot the name of the artist, but she said, "You know, my struggle is, I just want people to tell me what they want, what they really, really want. Because I don't get it in opening statements. And if you tell me what you want at the end of the case, I can take notes on that. And then throughout the course of the case, I can determine whether there's evidence to support that position. And would that position be in the best interest of the children if we're talking about child custody, or not." But otherwise, what happens at the end of the case, I really don't know what necessarily is in the best interest of everybody. And so I issue a parenting plan that most of the time both parents are unhappy with. But it's because they didn't do the preparation necessary, they procrastinated, or they just threw it up to the judge about what would be in the children's best interest."

Leh Meriwether: So that's why we're going to talk about today, just child custody. And we're going to talk about it from the different stages of a case. Everything from the mediation stage, temporary hearing, to when there's a guardian or custody evaluation going on, even with a final hearing, and perhaps informal negotiation. So things you can be doing along the way that are going to make your case, will really make it better for the kids. But there's actually an exception. As in most cases, there's an exception to every rule. And so there's some times where take being proactive... And this is a strategy. So it's not necessarily procrastination. But before we came on, Todd, you were talking about the one scenario where not taking action can actually help your case.

Todd Orston: Yeah. And we'll talk about this. And look, Leh, I agree with 99% of what you just said. The only thing I would question is, you know that was a Spice Girl song. I mean, you hum that tune constantly. You're a huge, you got the T shirts, poster in your bedroom. You know you're a Spice Girls fan enough. Just be honest with the listeners. No.

Todd Orston: But we were talking about that. And we'll go into in a little bit more detail. Sometimes not doing something, not being proactive, we talk about this all the time, not engaging in what we call proactive versus reactive behavior. Sometimes strategically, it makes sense. But you also have to think of things in terms of what's in the best interest of my child. And so, yes, strategically, it may help your legal case. But is it truly in your child's best interest? Again, we can go into that in a little more detail.

Leh Meriwether: That's right. Well, let's talk about... So assuming the case has already been filed. So a case involving child custody has been filed and the parents are not in agreement, at least in the beginning. What would be in the best interest of the children, and what sort of parenting plan there should be? The first step I would... To avoid procrastination, one of the things I love to suggest is to get one of those big calendars, not something digital, but a big paper calendar, and sort of layout, like mark down on there all the holidays, and which ones are important to you, which ones may not be as important to you, ones that you've celebrated. Maybe you celebrate with an extended family. And start... You begin with the end in mind. When the divorce is over, what is it you would like to see when it comes to... And you could start with what you would like to see.

Leh Meriwether: Now, that may not necessarily be in the child's best interest, but you could start there. And then pause for a minute, and then say, "I would love this, but I'm not sure that's in the children's best interest, because they love their father, they love their mother. And they need to see both parents equally. So I'm going to have to back off of this." But the good thing is, you are now aware of, "Hey, this is a want of mine, not necessarily the best interest of the children." And you can relay that. So when someone says, and this goes back to mediation, so we're helping you avoid the procrastination. But somebody says," Oh, you just want that because you like it. You don't think it's in the best interest of children." Say, "No, actually, I did think about what I want. And what I would really like is this over here, but I realized that would keep you from the kids. And that would not be fair to the kids or to you, and I didn't even put that one on the table."

Leh Meriwether: So it opens the door. So you have some things to move past positions and explain that, "Hey, look, I really have been thinking through this. And I'm trying to avoid a scenario where it's unfair to you, and more importantly, unfair to the kids."

Todd Orston: Two quick points. This is a process. Every one of these cases, it's a process, and it's going to require work, it's going to require you to provide information to the attorney. Understand, without your assistance, the attorney has nothing. Everything that we are going to use for the most part is going to come either from you or through discovery, meaning asking questions of the other party. So the more you can do for us, the stronger your case will be, the better job we can do for you. Secondly, think of it also in a financial way. Procrastination can also be more expensive. If you're working with an attorney, that attorney needs information. They know what information they need. They're going to keep asking for it. They're going to keep striving to get it. If you don't provide it, they have to go to third parties to get it. They're spinning their wheels. And more importantly, you're spending money for them to accomplish these things, and gather this information.

Todd Orston: So the more proactive you are in thinking about what you want to accomplish thinking about what you want in terms of custody and parenting time and decision making, and all of those issues, and spoon feeding your attorney, the less work your attorney has to do. They can help then come up with a strategy communicated to the other side, and hopefully get you through the whole process quickly and efficiently.

Leh Meriwether: And that's an excellent, excellent point, that the more information the more you tell your lawyer, "This is what I am looking for. This is my ideal situation is. But this is what I'd be happy with. I think it's good for the kids," it's easier for them to advocate for you. When we come back, we're going to get more specific on how procrastination hurts your custody case.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever want to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings WSP. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than like counting sheep, I guess. So you can turn on the show, and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very soft.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. And if you want to read transcripts of this show, or others, or go back and listen to other episodes, you can always go to DivorceTeamRadio.com. And you can find us wherever you get your podcasts, at least you should. I'm pretty sure you're out there everywhere. But if you are on some platform, and we're not showing up, let us know. Send us an email, send it to LMeriwether@Mtlawoffice.com. And let us know, and we will make sure we are up there.

Leh Meriwether: So today we're talking about procrastination, and how it hurts your child custody case. And we're trying to take different segments of the case because every cases go through different stages. So in many contested custody cases, there's an appointment of what's called a guardian ad Litem or a custody evaluator. A guardian ad Litem is often attorney, they don't have to be, but they've been specially trained. They are technically an expert, and their job is to investigate each party's position, and make a formal expert recommendation to the court as to what they think is in the best interest of the children. A custody evaluator, that's a little different, involves a psychologist. They do all kinds of psychological testing. But the end result is similar in that. And they also give an expert recommendation to the court as to what they think is in the children's best interest when it comes to a parenting plan.

Leh Meriwether: Okay. So how is procrastinating, working through a parenting plan or a proposal, how does that hurt your custody case if you meet with a guardian ad Litem or custody evaluator unprepared, Todd?

Todd Orston: I have no idea. No, I'm kidding. That is a good question. I'm going to defer that to somebody else. No. Look, you will now have a new audience. You and I are both trained guardians. So we know. And obviously, we've handled scores, tons of cases that involve guardians. In Georgia, at least the use of a guardian ad Litem, in a contested custody matter is commonplace. So as opposed to your judge being your audience, you now have a new audience. You now need to make sure you're working well with the guardian, because ultimately, the guardian, while the guardian is not making a decision, a binding decision, their opinion will carry a lot of weight with the judge.

Todd Orston: So one reason why procrastination will hurt you is, if you're trying to convey to the guardian what you feel is in the child or children's best interest, and that you are the best choice to be the primary parent or whatever it is you're asking for that you think that that's a good idea. But every time the guardian requests information, you don't have it. Every time they ask for you to comply with a request, like to do a home visit, and you're not available, or you reschedule again and again. Well, at that point, your audience is going to start questioning how important this whole custody matter is to you. Because they're trying to prioritize it, they're trying to focus on making some decisions or rather opinions that they can pass on to the court, and you're sitting here saying one thing, but doing something dramatically different. And that can impact the opinion of the guardian.

Leh Meriwether: And sometimes it may not be an overt impact. It could be a subtle one, that subconscious level that, "Hey, this person really doesn't care. This person, they just think that custody's in the bag for them. And I'm concerned that they're going to slowly start to ease the other parent out of these children's lives. They're not going to make that extra effort to make sure that children are involved with both parents." And so that's one impact. Here's an example of someone who didn't procrastinate. They came to a custody evaluation, and one of the questions that was asked of them is like, "Well, it's my understanding, you travel a lot for work, that you're gone almost every week. How in the world can you do 50-50 custody?" And the person was prepared, they didn't procrastinate getting ready. They said, "I've already talked to my boss. We can easily reschedule my calendar. So then I'm only gone on the weeks I don't have the kids, and the weeks that I'm proposing. And by the way, here's my proposal. The weeks I have when I'm asking for the kids, I do not travel."

Leh Meriwether: And they said, "Okay, well what happens if you have an issue of picking him up from school, because maybe you're on a conference call." Said, "Well, first off, I won't schedule a conference call." He worked from home. "I won't schedule it for the time that I have to pick them up. And by the way, I do have a backup. My mom lives five minutes away from where I'm planning on moving to, and she doesn't work, she's retired. She can always pick them up." So he had a plan for every scenario. And it was very, in the custody evaluator, was impressed. He came to the very first meeting prepared with answers. And I don't remember, we had Courtney Carpenter on one time. And she talks about like the 10 things. I mean, it's an old show, I can't remember the show number off the top of my head, but she talks about the things that you need to have ready when you meet with a guardian. And one of them was having a parenting plan ready when you first meet with them.

Todd Orston: Yeah. I've seen a lot of people, whether they were cases that I was involved in, or even where I was waiting for my case to be heard. And I have observed people where they are in the middle of a hearing, and they get through the hearing, and then the judge just looks out and basically is like, "Where is your plan? You're standing before me saying that you deserve something. But you have offered nothing in terms of what the actual parenting plan would look like. So why would I think you're taking this seriously? Why would I think that you'd be the right choice, when you've given me nothing that would lead me to believe you've given thought to what the plan should be?' And so absolutely. And you touched on this at the beginning of the show, that you need to be walking into court with this complete plan. And when I say complete, obviously, you can't identify every single issue that will come up in any given day. But you need to be thinking about the physical custody issues, pick up, and drop off situations, any issues that can come up, what's going to be done if you have to work or you have to travel, how are you going to handle these things?

Todd Orston: And the other thing that I will say is in terms of making sure that it doesn't appear as if you're procrastinating. If you are the parent who has not historically interacted directly with teachers, with doctors, whatever the case might be, you need to start because again, this then... You can't walk into court and say, "Well, no, that wasn't my role. I want joint or primary custody. That wasn't my role. But if you basically issue an order making me the primary, like I'm asking, I'll start to do it."

Leh Meriwether: I'll figure it out.

Todd Orston: Yeah. That will not work. You cannot procrastinate on that. If unfortunately, you have to go through a divorce or custody action, and custody will be an issue in the case, you can't procrastinate. You need to show the court that it's fine, it's understandable. If you historically were not the person who dealt with those issues, you need to start educating yourself. I have seen people walk into court, and I've done this, I've asked these questions. "So Sir, you are asking for primary custody?" "Absolutely." "Okay. What grade is your child in?" "Fourth." Okay, a little bit of hesitation. "What's the name of your child's teacher?" Crickets. "Okay, what's the name of their doctor?" Crickets. So that can't happen. Judges will be looking at that, guardians will be looking at that. If you don't have those answers, if you have not taken steps to interact with those people taking care of your child or children, then at that point, I don't even know why you're fighting for custody, because I can tell you it's probably not going to go your way.

Leh Meriwether: So when we're talking about procrastination, to be clear, that doesn't mean that, for some people, it doesn't mean you don't care about your kids. What happens is, for some, it's hard to sit down and do this because it's painful. The thought of, and I'm speaking from, I would ask, "Why haven't you done this?" And I would hear things like, "It's painful to think about the kids not being with me on certain weekends. It's painful to think that I'll miss part of the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll miss this because there'll be years where, if we're alternating the years, we don't have them. It's really painful for me to think through this. And so I just shut down." But you can't shut down, unfortunately.

Leh Meriwether: So if you're struggling with it, I mean, one recommendation would be to get a counselor. And because their hourly rates a lot cheaper than lawyers, and have them help you work through this, because there are counselors out there that will help you draft a parenting plan, and help you get all this stuff together. If you're struggling to do it, and so as a result you push it off, then get someone to help. And you know, one thing we can't push off, is a break. So when we come back, we'll continue to break down the dangers of procrastination and child custody case.

Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone, you're listening to our podcast. But you have alternatives. You have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning, on WSB. If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us on iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it. Give us a five-star rating, and tell us why you like the show.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. And if you want to read a transcript of this show, or go back and listen to it again, you can go to DivorceTeamRadio.com.

Leh Meriwether: Today we're talking about how procrastination hurts your child custody case. And we're kind of taking not necessarily getting... Well, sometimes we're getting deep, but talking about practical implications to it, and how it can have a subtle negative impact on your case. But it can actually have a monetary impact in your case. So we're going to talk about... We talked about that first meeting with a guardian ad Litem or a custody evaluator. And now we're going to talk about mediation.

Leh Meriwether: Now, there's several reasons why you do not want to procrastinate before me. You want to prepare for mediation, you do not want to procrastinate, you do not want to say, "You know what, we'll figure out a parenting plan when we get to mediation." I mean, the first thing that jumps to my mind is, you've got too often two lawyers and a mediator, and the mediators can be... Your lawyers can be anywhere from 200 to 600, $800 an hour. And depending on what kind of lawyer you have, and where you are, where you live. And then your mediator, it could be 150 to $400 an hour. I've seen a big range of those as well. So you have all that money, and you're now... You show up to mediation, it could be $1,000 an hour easy, it's going through, and you wait till then to have a baseline parenting plan put together, and you're having the mediator help you craft that initial parenting plan. And I understand, there are cases where you've got to do that. But for the most part, you want to show up prepared with a parenting plan. Because you want the mediator to focus their time and energy and your money on getting past the points of the hurdles. Because often you'll see people agree to like 75% of a particular parenting plan. It's that 25% they can't agree to.

Leh Meriwether: So if you can have the BDR focus all their energy on that 25% of disagreement, odds are you're going to have a successful mediation. Because they'll be able to focus everything in on that. But if they're going to spend it all on 100% of the parenting plan, because there is not one prepared, well, you might have multiple mediations, or mediation case completely fails. And that's just one reason. When we were off air, we wish we hit the record button, because Todd, you had some great things too. So go ahead, and add to that.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Most of my most astute statements and comments are made offline. So to all of you listeners, really don't listen to the shows, you just need to be in studio with us and listen to the in-between time. No. Look, this is what I'm going to say. It's really, you need to sit down and do some soul searching, and try and figure out what are you trying to accomplish. Because if your true goal, and you may not want to be in this, you may hate the fact that you have to go through let's say, a divorce. And I'm sorry, I truly am. We've done show after show about trying to stay together. I mean, the opening of every show, we talk about how we do oftentimes give tips to try and save a marriage that's in crisis. And we mean that. But if you're in it, and if you want to get through it as quickly and for lack of better way of saying it, painlessly as possible, then there are things you need to do.

Todd Orston: If we were talking about a car, and you don't want to have to spend tons on mechanical fixes, and repairs, and what have you. Well, that means it takes some work. You need to change the oil, you need to work on the brakes, and change all the different fluids, and this and that, to make sure that your car doesn't just break down, and then it's much more costly. Well, the same thing with these types of cases. It's going to take work, it's going to take effort. If you don't engage in that behavior, then you're going to get all the way to a mediation, and you're going to walk I. And the other party, if you're just dropping something on their lap at mediation for the first time, just basic negotiation tactics show, that's not going to work oftentimes. Their initial reaction will probably be one of, "That's not reasonable." It could be the most reasonable thing ever. But they might hear it and say, "No way. I'm not giving you that. I'm not allowing that." But an hour after mediation ends or a week or a month or a year later, they may wake up and go, "Oh, hold on one second, that was actually pretty reasonable."

Todd Orston: But the bottom line is, you didn't go in prepared, you didn't present that information, that hopefully they already had some time to digest ahead of time. And therefore, you basically made it more difficult to get to that settlement, which is really what mediation is all about is avoiding litigation, by going in prepared, and utilizing that third-party neutral to reach an agreement, and avoid litigation.

Leh Meriwether: I can't tell you how many mediations I've had where basically a bomb was dropped in mediation, and it just it ended it from a mental processing perspective for my client. Because the bomb was dropped there and not ahead of time. And now there's some strategies as... I mean, you need to meet with your lawyer. And that's another thing, you don't want to procrastinate. I know it costs money. But you need to meet with your lawyer in advance to talk about the custody issues, what you're looking for, what you're willing to settle for, what you think is really in the best interest of the children, have them do a reality check on you. Because you may think something's a great idea, but both he or she, both your lawyer and the other lawyer know that there's no way the judge is going to accept a proposal like that, even if both parties agree. We've seen that happen before. So you need a taste of realism before you get to mediation, too. You don't want to present something to your lawyer, your lawyer in the middle of mediation says, "That's not going to work." So you've got to meet with a lawyer ahead of time.

Leh Meriwether: And then often, I'm with you, Todd, I like to... There's again, maybe some strategic exceptions to this rule. But I like to share our proposal ahead of time, let the other side digest it, even if we know they're not going to agree to it, they know where we're coming from when we get there. And you've seen this too Todd, sometimes people, they won't accept a reasonable proposal because of the person who's making the proposal. Even though they may actually have wanted that, but it's because it's coming from the other side, they're so angry with the other side for whatever reason, they won't accept it. The advantage of coming in there prepared as the mediator, you can let the mediator know, "Hey, look. We've got some problems here, and that they're rejecting everything we make. Can you make this proposal come from you?" And so a lot of times a good mediator, they'll go in there and they'll get the temperature of both rooms. And then they'll come up, because both sides actually had a prepared parenting plan, they'll come up with these great compromises that came from them, so that you don't have that mental emotional barrier to accepting it, and you reach a settlement.

Todd Orston: Yeah. But that's the difference once again, between strategy and procrastination. And sometimes that's a very subtle and fine line. But it's a line. And absolutely, sometimes you'll ask for more than you're thinking you're going to ultimately get. But the bottom line is, you have thought it out, you've thought about all the relevant parts of what custody should look like, and that you're going to have to deal with. And that way you present it ahead of time, let them start digesting. If they hate something, fine. But they come in, and then that can open the door to discussion. Okay, well, you don't like that. No way. I'm not doing that. Well, let's talk about some other things. And hopefully, it opens them up to that dialogue.

Leh Meriwether: And I don't know if this is, I guess a third reason why procrastinating, preparing for your mediation can be harmful is, we've seen cases where both parties came to mediation unprepared, but the lawyers knew that neither party really needed to go to court. So they knuckle down, and they push through, and they drafted a parenting plan during the mediation process. It was one of those 10-12-hour mediations. And the parties walked out with a signed written parenting plan, that one or both, 24 hours, 48 hours later, hated and wanted to get out of. And it was partly because either they, number one, hadn't processed everything yet, or number two, they thought of something later on. And because they hadn't prepared, they didn't even think about it in mediation, and they sign the agreement. And that agreement can be enforced. Once everybody has signed it, the judge can make it the law, I mean, the order of the court. And you can't do anything about it.

Todd Orston: That's a great point.

Leh Meriwether: But if you think on in advance, what often happens when you think about it in advance, and then, because I've seen this happen, we plan, we prepare, and then at mediation, the realization hit that, "Oh, wait, this isn't going to work because of this," or that, or whatever it may be. And it was that extra preparation that allowed them to... Because at mediation, you're focused on certain things. And if you're focused on the document itself and not necessarily some ramifications of the document, then you don't have time to process everything. So a lot of it is a process, and it's a process of processing things. And the more time you spend on it, the more likely you're going to get an agreement that both of you can live with, and maybe equally unhappily or equally happily. So we just want to increase your chances of reaching a successful conclusion to your case, hopefully without court. When we come back, we're going to talk about what happens when you procrastinate when it comes to preparing for court.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever want to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings WSP. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than like counting sheep, I guess. So you can turn on the show, and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online the AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. If you want to read a transcript of this show, or go back and listen to it again, you can always go to DivorceTeamRadio.com, or listen to our show wherever you get your podcasts.

Leh Meriwether: So we've been talking about how procrastination hurts your child custody case. We've talked about different phases. Now we're going to talk about the court process. All of them interrelate. But we're going to get very specific about temporary hearings, final hearings. And we'll start with temporary hearings. And so you want to be prepared when it comes to a temporary hearing for the child custody. And you've got to prepare for it. Number one, going back to what I said at the very beginning of the show, you need to be able to give your lawyer the talking points. Like what is it you're looking for on a temporary basis? So your parenting plan on a temporary basis most of the time, not always, but it's going to be different than a final basis. So we've done a whole show on temporary hearings, and it's merely to set the framework about where the children are going to live during the pendency of the litigation. And then if you can't settle it, you go to a final hearing.

Leh Meriwether: So it's a different plan. Because often, people need to get equity out of a house, maybe there's on the equity in the house, and you can't eat. You don't have time to sell in the middle of the case. But once it's sold, both parties are going to take money out and buy their own respective homes. And so that's why you have... You're going to have a different parenting plan for a temporary hearing versus a final hearing. You want to give that information to your lawyer ahead of time. So in court during the opening statement, they can tell the court, they can actually present to the court, a formal parenting plan that you can ask the judge to sign. I've even been in court where I showed up with a formal temporary parenting plan, and the other side didn't show up with anything.

Leh Meriwether: And not that this is the right way to do it, but like halfway through the hearing, the judge is like, "I've read the parenting plan proposed by Mr. Meriwether, and I don't see anything wrong with it. What's wrong with it?" And so she was trying to excel. There was a lot of hearings on the calendar, and she tried to pinpoint the other side to say, "What is it you're objecting to on this parenting plan?" The funny thing was they couldn't. Because they weren't prepared. They hadn't formalized the responses. So I'm just going to sign this parenting plan. Now, I'm not saying that was the proper action, but it worked great for my client.

Leh Meriwether: And that's why you want to have that prepared ahead of time. But let's say you've got this-

Todd Orston: I don't think there's anything wrong with that, though. No, I was just going to say this. I don't think there's anything wrong with going in prepared. And I know that's not what you're saying.

Leh Meriwether: No. I'm sorry.

Todd Orston: I heard... You mean, the judge is... Right. Nothing wrong with the judge basically pushing the issue of, "Hey, I see the plan over here. What's wrong?"

Leh Meriwether: No. I guess what... I'm glad you pointed that out. What I meant was, some people might not think that's right, because the judge didn't give the other side the full chance to present their case. That's where some people object. They're like, "Well... " But the court's response usually is, this is an interim order. This is not a final order. At final hearing, I'll get both parties equal time to present their case. But I have short circuited so many temporary hearings by showing up with formal proposed orders for the judge to sign on the spot. So I like to do that. And it's easy.

Todd Orston: No. So do I. I mean, I hear what you're saying. But I don't think what the judge is doing is improper, because I've yet to see a judge... Maybe I rarely do I see a judge literally shut down the other side, not give them their opportunity. Now, what people need to understand is, a temporary hearing is a much different animal than a final trial. Temporary hearings are all about a couple of things. It's maintaining the status quo. What's going to happen on a temporary interim basis. And then also, you have to be thinking about, are there motions, other motions that need to be heard, like motion for appointment of a guardian ad Litem if you can't reach an agreement, motion for a psychological evaluation, motion just basically dealing with any appointment of some kind of an expert, if there's, let's say, a business, and you need some kind of evaluation expert? Dealing with those types of things, the court's going to deal with it at that temporary hearing.

Todd Orston: Now, you don't have days and days and days to deal with these issues. And therefore, procrastination means you're not prepared, which means you go in, and you don't, or are not able, to efficiently present these issues. You need to go in prepared, you need to go in understanding what your strategic litigation roadmap looks like. So I don't think usually judges don't shut them down. But I have seen judges say, "Whoa. Hold on one second." It's sort of like, "Well, tell me what's going on here." And it's like, "Well, in the second grade," "No, hold on. Tell me what I need to know about right now, that will help me deal with these issues that need to be dealt with right now. Not what happened 20 years ago."

Todd Orston: So judges shutting it down to a point where it's like, "Well, hold on focus here. This is what their proposal is. What's wrong with it?" I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Leh Meriwether: No, I was just talking about... If it's not...

Todd Orston: No. I think-

Leh Meriwether: All I was trying to say is, some people can see that, feel like they weren't heard or something like that.

Todd Orston: I agree with that. That's a common complaint.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And so that's why I want to say, "Hey, if you don't come prepared, this is what can happen." That's, again, going back to how procrastination can hurt your custody case, you don't come court prepared. You could all of a sudden have a scenario like that, like if you were on the other side and that person really was upset. They didn't feel like they had been heard. But they just weren't prepared. I don't want... Between you and me, I don't think there would have been... If the court had a full blown hearing, I think she still would have signed by order. Because again, they weren't prepared.

Leh Meriwether: So between the temporary hearing the final hearing, a lot can happen. So we... Todd, you'd alluded earlier to a scenario where that began at strategic not procrastination, you putting it off, but a scenario where you do intentionally put things off between temporary hearing and final hearing. It's kind of the exception of the rule. But go ahead and go into more detail on that.

Todd Orston: Yeah. I mean, sometimes, especially when it relates to custody issues, sometimes it makes sense to sort of sit on your hands, it makes sense to not ask all the questions. So a couple of reasons why. Number one, strategically speaking, if you are the parent who has custody, and you are taking care of all the medical issues, you're taking care of school issues, you're taking care of everything, and the other parent is basically non-existent, and you know they're coming in saying, "I want joint custody," well, pushing them to be more involved, and questioning saying, "Well, really, you want custody. You're not talking to the doctor, you're not talking to the teachers, you're not talking to the coaches." That may actually cause them to step up and do really the right thing.

Todd Orston: So sometimes strategically, you might say, "Hey, the other spouse has really deferred everything in terms of parenting to me. I'm just going to sit back. And they should know what they need to do, to step up and be the parent they need to be. It's not for me to keep pushing them and pulling them to do that." So there is that issue where it's like, let them either rise or fall to the occasion. And if they don't, then you'll be able to walk into court and say, "Judge, here you go. They had every opportunity. And I even gave them opportunities. And they just didn't do anything." And at that point, the court hopefully, will recognize it and say, "Well, sir. You know what, you're asking for joint or primary custody. I'm not giving that to you. Because you haven't proven that that is something you actually want and can handle."

Leh Meriwether: And to be clear, we're not saying like, we don't want a parent to not make sure the other parent is actively involved in children's life. But we have seen over and over again, where one parent just wasn't involved. During the litigation, because they don't like to lose, they suddenly step up, and they do certain things. And so it shows a pattern of conduct during the course of a case. Because of the temporary hearing, a judge may give someone a chance. They often do, and it's in the children's best interest. You want both parents involved. But then the case is over, the court and orders entered. And then for all practical purposes, they go back to the way they were before the divorce, and they're not involved in the kid's life at all. And now the parent, one parent's having to jump through all these hoops to make sure they're constantly notifying the other parent of things, even if they're not responding.

Leh Meriwether: And unfortunately, I see the scenario where they go a year or two, and they're notifying the other parent, "Hey, this teacher conference is coming up. Hey, this is coming up," and they never show up. And so they stop sending out the notifications, which is technically a contempt of the order. And it's a really unfortunate scenario. So that's where being prepared helps, because you can craft in the parenting plan the other parent's responsible for getting on... Right now you have at least what's called parent portals in school. And even for a pediatrician, so the other parent's responsible for getting into all the systems, so they're given alerts about what's going on in school and the other parent's not having to be a babysitter for the other parent. So that's... I mean-

Todd Orston: Yeah, I agree. We always want parents to step up, and be the parent they need to be for their children. But it's not, and I've heard people oftentimes say, "It's not my job to coach them to be the parent they need to be." And so strategically sometimes, you let them again rise or fall to the occasion, and whatever happens happens. Hopefully they prioritize their kids.

Leh Meriwether: Well, everyone, we're out of time, unfortunately. But thanks so much for listening.