In Part I of “Setting the Record Straight” I offered three (3) tips for gathering evidence: Take screenshots, videos, and pictures; Follow up phone or in-person conversations with documents; and Remember that if it is in writing, it can (and probably will) be used as evidence. Below are three (3) more recommendations that can greatly help your chances of winning at trial:
- Keep everything! Make and keep a copy of all bank statements, bills, financials, tax returns, and supporting documents—even cancelled checks, check registers, and credit card statements. These will be valuable for support and asset division issues in the future. If you see any reference to a bank account or credit card with which you are not familiar, make sure to keep a copy of the account numbers and the financial institutions so that your attorney can subpoena the records later and expose any potentially hidden assets or gifts that were not authorized and must be returned to the community estate.
- Have a Journal, Diary, Calendar, or Log of All Relevant Events. Take notes on everything—recapturing issues with the children, business issues, abusive conversations, physical abuse, bullying, etc. A record of past problem behavior can go a long way in proving your case with the court. It can be an invaluable tool that takes little effort to coordinate at the time but can be very cumbersome (and costly) for your attorney to recreate later.
- Make the Proper Record at Trial for Appeal. Many cases are appealed. The court of appeal only works with the designated appellate record, so it is imperative that you get that record correct. The appellate court will not consider anything that happened outside of this closed universe. So, make sure to properly designate the record (including whatever might potentially be useful) in the proper timeframes set by the appellate court. Also, make sure you get final rulings on arguments at trial from the trial court. The appellate court only reviews rulings, so make sure you get them, after making your arguments. Pay for a court reporter at all proceedings if the court does not provide one—and get a copy of each reporter’s transcript.
(FYI: In the past, getting the record correct could be difficult because of complications such as getting trial counsel cooperation. Today, as pointed out in a recent ABA article, securing an accurate record is even more difficult because of the comprehensive use of virtual proceedings thanks to Covid-19.)
If the importance of documentation in a courtroom has not already been seared into your mind, then here it is one more time: Get everything in writing! There is no such thing as a “pack rat” or a “hoarder” when it comes to documentation. Keep everything, hand everything over to your attorney, and let your attorney decide what is or is not needed. The more documents and evidence you provide to your attorney, the better job your attorney can do for you.