Ideas & Advice

Litigants’ demeanor and tone in court do matter

Litigants' demeanor and tone in court do matter
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As I review recent opinions from Missouri Courts of Appeal every week, I am continually reminded of the depth, breadth and importance in people’s lives of the issues that the justice system must address.

Nowhere is this perhaps more true than in the law relating to children and how disputes and competing interests over who and how children involved in family law disputes are to be brought up, supported and supported are determined.

An opinion released last week by the Missouri Court of Appeals illustrates the importance of these cases, how difficult they can be for parties, and provides an important lesson for attorneys regarding the trial of custody disputes, and any type of business for that matter. .

The case concerns a baby girl born in 2008, to a mother and father who were never married and never lived together at any relevant time.

During the first four years of the little girl’s life, she and her mother lived with Friend of Mom, a woman who helped the mother raise the minor child during those early years, and remained friends with the minor child thereafter.

During these early years, evidence showed that the father was busy raising other children he had fathered and was not actively involved with the minor child.

This changed in the following years, especially after mum and mum’s friend no longer lived together, and the evidence is that the child lived with the mother and had contact with the friend. from mom and dad thereafter.

In 2019, just before the little girl turned 11, the mother passed away after a period of illness, resulting in a lengthy legal and personal custody battle between the father and mom’s friend, who both have initiated various legal proceedings and proceedings. keep.

Missouri law is that there is a rebuttable presumption that a natural parent is fit and able to make decisions in the best interests of a child.

Nonetheless, non-parents can intervene in a custody case and apply for custody, but only if they can rebut the presumption of parental status by showing that: 1) the natural parent is unfit to be custodial, or 2) welfare of the child requires that custody be assigned to a non-parent. In the end, all of the different proceedings of mom’s father and friend were merged into one case and tried together in what the Court of Appeal’s opinion would indicate as a contentious trial.

The proof was that the father had not been there for the first few years, but came forward more after the mother and the mother’s friend stopped living together. It was shown that after mom’s friend ceased to live with mother and child, she still remained in the picture, and during those years she hampered father’s attempts to be a part of the minor child’s life by obstructing parenting time and other acts that interfered with Father’s attempts to be a father.

Further, it was evident that Friend of Mom’s trial strategy was to vilify the father for the purpose of rebutting the parents’ natural presumption, and his overall hostility to the father for his acknowledged shortcomings in the past certainly did. manifested.

The Father’s testimony, on the other hand, was characterized by humility and good faith.

He openly admitted his shortcomings as a father in the past and expressed regret over his absence from the child’s life during his early years. Yet despite the bad faith shenanigans led by Friend of Mom in recent years, he has expressed his willingness to put aside any personal animosity and allow an ongoing relationship between Friend of Mom and the child if he has custody of it. , something the Court of Appeals speculated might not happen with Friend of Mom, if she got custody.

And so the trial court determined that the evidence did not support a rebuttal of the parental presumption, and the father prevailed. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision, once again publishing a lesson to be learned.

In court, more often than not, the anger and slander of the other party in a custody case is not easy to sell, and co-parents who are angry and hostile to the other side are often penalized in a custody matter.

Instead, I say to my clients over and over again, “Take the high road. Even if the other parent doesn’t deserve it. Even if they acted with hostility and bad faith. Even though sometimes you just want to unload on them and give them a taste of their own medicine, each day you create your own proof of who you are by the way you behave. What do you want this proof to be? Act in consequence.

In fact, this is generally good advice in any type of case. And we are so remembered again.

Ken Garten is a lawyer from Blue Springs. Email him at

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