One of our popular Divorce Litigation Support Services involves coaching people who are representing themselves in court in a litigated divorce. Coaching can come in a variety of forms depending on each individual’s circumstances and needs. One common way we help clients through coaching is to give them advice on some of the basic ways they can object to evidence presented by the opposing party during a divorce hearing.
What many pro per litigants don’t realize is that it is not the responsibility of the judge to help them understand family law legal procedures, including evidentiary procedures that govern what kind of evidence can or cannot be admitted. Judges are supposed to maintain “judicial neutrality” and not advocate or act as counsel for someone who is representing themselves in a courtroom.
As a result, many pro per litigants can be at a disadvantage when opposing counsel submits evidence—either through statements or documents—that may not be technically admissible. If the pro per litigant does not make an objection to the admissibility of the evidence, the right to object is waived. That means that evidence that should not technically be allowed under evidence rules may be admitted and used in the decision making process leading to a final judgment.
In some instances, a judge will make what is called a material objection and will not admit the evidence. But while California family law judges are given discretion in handling cases before them, the sheer volume of pro per litigants, and the differing viewpoints and styles of every judge means that you may end up in a court room where the judge will not take this action and the evidence will be admitted.
So, what kind of objections can be used to help you in a litigated divorce proceeding? There are more than two dozen, but there are three basic ones that I tend to focus on. They are: hearsay, lack of expert opinion and lack of foundation. These tend to pop up fairly frequently, and helping people understand how to identify what types of evidence falls into these categories, and then how to properly object to that evidence can give clients a huge leg up in the process.
It’s not uncommon in family law court for attorneys to make all kinds of statements about what someone has said outside of the courtroom (hearsay). Or, for an attorney to give an opinion on something that falls out of their realm of expertise (lack of expert opinion). Or, to introduce documents that have not been proven to be authentic or whose source has not been verified (lack of foundation).
Being forearmed with some basic legal knowledge and tools that can help a client navigate the courtroom has helped many of them represent themselves effectively and achieve a better outcome than they expected in their divorce proceedings. Representing yourself doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If you would like to know more coaching and consulting services that can help you during a litigated divorce, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004.