Not properly presenting all of the variables to the court or not insisting on tight drafting of the terms of the support obligation affect both the initial support award and future efforts to modify the support. Custody and visitation issues can involve not just what the parties believe is best for their children, but the opinions of experts or advocates as to what is best for the children. The court is not constrained by the desires of the parties or the children as to custody or visitation, particularly where the parties disagree. The court may involve an attorney for the children or mental health professionals to render opinions on what would be in the best interests of the children.
Knowing how the judge and any such experts view custody and visitation issues, and what factors or behaviors might be considered significant, are critical to understanding the possible custody and visitation options and in achieving an acceptable custody or visitation decision. As the initial custody and visitation order or agreement sets the baseline for future modifications, it is imperative that the initial decision be correct and fully address the custody and visitation issues. Clients who were not properly represented in the initial proceedings, particularly against an opposing party whose attorney will draft the order or judgment in terms favorable to their client, face an uphill battle in attempting to reverse or modify those initial decisions. The exact provisions of the court’s order or judgment control and are subject to modification only under specific circumstances. Assertions that a party did not fully understand the terms or consequences seldom prevail.
Agreements between the parties that are not set out in a court order are generally unenforceable. Relying upon the representations of the other party or common sense interpretation of less than precise language is a certain recipe for disaster. A knowledgeable and experienced advocate to navigate the family court system is essential to understand the issue, rights, and options in resolving or litigation the dissolution of a marriage or establishing paternity rights and responsibilities. The expense of a qualified family law practitioner may seem unaffordable, particularly at a time when resources may be stretched already, but the cost in money, time and peace of mind of not retaining qualified counsel is most likely much greater in the long run.
Richard Coffee is a Senior Attorney in the Belleville office of Cordell & Cordell.