Top Ten Tips for Temporary Orders Hearings
by Carson Epes Steinbauer & Madison McBee
Family lawyers know that a temporary orders hearing is a possibility, if not a probability, in divorce and other family law cases. Adequate preparation for a temporary orders hearing is imperative to obtain the best outcome for your client. Here are 10 important factors to follow when preparing for a temporary orders hearing in any family law case.
1. Get the Facts.Lawyers like to talk, tell war stories and critique opposing counsel when meeting a potential client. We want to get hired; so, much of the consultation is spent talking to the client and “selling ourselves” rather than gathering information. Treat the consultation like a deposition. Ask as much as you can about marital history, causes of the breakdown in the marriage, fault, children and custody goals, substance abuse and/or family violence, marital and separate property, modification or enforcement issues, etc. Family law cases are extremely fact-specific—the devil is in the details. If you do not have all of the facts you cannot effectively represent your client.
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Treat a temporary orders hearing as you would a final trial. Frequently, a temporary order sets the precedent for rulings issued at final trial. It is difficult to have a temporary order vacated or modified on appeal or at final trial. It is a mistake to try a temporary orders hearing on the fly. Prepare a notebook containing your opening and closing statements; direct and cross examination questions; exhibits; case law; a cheat sheet of objections; briefs on any legal issues; and a summary of requested relief.
3. Know the Law. Judges are real people too. Do not expect them to always know the fact-specific application of the law you assert is controlling. Judges expect you to have fully researched the law in advance and to present it in support of your case. Bring your Family Code, Family Law Handbook, Rules of Evidence and Procedure, case law, briefs, etc. to aid the court. If your books and binders are too cumbersome, iPads or other tablets can be great tools in court. Not only will you have your witness questions and outlines available electronically, you will have instant access to many Apps linking you to various law libraries for quick legal research.
4. Know the Rules of Evidence and Procedure. In nearly every hearing it will be necessary to object to opposing counsel’s line of questioning. To be effective, you must properly object and know the rules. A helpful hint—the Tool Kit from the State Bar of Texas is great to have during the hearing and contains an extensive list of commonly used objections.
5. Know the Judge, Rules of Court and Local Rules. Many courts set a limit on the amount of time attorneys have to present their case. Generally, 20 minutes per side is the rule. If there is an applicable time limit, you should file a Motion to Increase Time. It is rare that all contested issues can be heard in 20 minutes.
6. Prepare your Client. Many lawyers make the mistake of putting a client on the witness stand cold and unprepared. Provide your client with questions you plan to ask in advance, so that you face no surprises later. Also, prepare the witness for an aggressive cross examination and discuss possible responses to questions from opposing counsel.
7. Anticipate your Opponent’s Case. Take time to anticipate your opponent’s story, theories of the case, and legal arguments so that you are prepared to respond appropriately. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s case and the law that supports their case. Good preparation includes anticipating your opponent’s approach.
8. Prepare a Financial Information Statement. If there are issues concerning child support, spousal support, debts or liabilities, bring a financial information statement and pay stubs to offer in court. Have your client review the information in advance because your client will be cross examined or questioned directly by the judge.
9. Offer a Summary of Requested Relief. These hearings are typically very fast. It is important to inform the Judge of the relief your client seeks. Prepare a detailed summary of relief to present in opening or closing arguments.
10. Offer a Proposed Order. Often, there is a gap between the hearing date and the actual drafting and entry of the temporary order. Bring a proposed order to the hearing to present to the judge for entry.
Carson Epes Steinbauer is head of the litigation section at Calabrese Huff,and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Madison McBee White is an associate at Calabrese Huffand can be reached at email@example.com.