A while back I had a client come into my office and tell me that they wanted a very specific custody plan. This client and his wife (whom he was separated from) were locked in a battle for custody of their three children in which she was withholding the children from him and seeking sole custody and he was pleading with her for joint custody. He had been told by other lawyers that the “best” plan was a 2-2-3 schedule, in which the children would be with one parent for two days, the other parent for 2 days and the first parent for the next 3 days. It is a fantastic plan for small children (I will be writing more about this in subsequent posts) and he believed that this is what he needed and wanted. From all the evidence I analyzed, it was a good plan and I told him I would advocate for that. However, to him, it was the ONLY plan. He truly believed that this was the only plan he could live with and anything less would be “losing”. I advised him that we should talk about how to draft a counter-complaint for exactly what he wanted if this was his goal. The moral of the story is that a lawyer can craft a complaint, advise and advocate and offer strategy in a way that a client may not know how to do on their own. Additionally, a lawyer can help a client understand that a complaint gives them the opportunity to ask for what they want and sometimes that means asking for more in order to reach a goal.
Filing a complaint for custody really begins by meeting with a lawyer. I always advise new clients to come into my office and talk to me about the situation so that we can better assess together what exactly the client’s expectations and goals are for the case. I listen and analyze the facts that the client provides in order to make sure that we can craft a complaint based on those facts. My responsibility as a lawyer is to make sure that the client understands exactly the plan of action and how everything is going to proceed. Every situation is different. A complaint offers the court the first idea and snippet of the “story” of the case. It is so the court can see that there is a person who is pleading to spend time with their child or keep their children from another parent for whatever reasons. A complaint is the gateway to the court system- it’s basically the prelude to the case that helps to craft the posture and status.
Once I meet with a client, I will draft the complaint, attach whatever exhibits I believe are necessary and have the client come back to my office to review and sign the document (in MD all family law pleadings must be signed by the party). I believe in explaining to each client the strategy and importance of each piece of what I think should be part of their case. Filing the complaint is just the beginning.