Providing Documents to the Hearing Officer AND Your Opposing Party
You are required to complete a package of documents, including a Hearing Officer Conference Affidavit and Statement of Income and Expenses. These documents must be completed and sent to the Hearing Officer AND opposing party (through his or her attorney) not later than five (5) day prior to your Conference date.
Attendance at the Hearing Officer Conference
Your attendance is mandatory and cannot be waived by your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, you may appear in proper person (on your own behalf.) Most Hearing Officer Conferences last about one to one half hours. You should wear "church clothes." Remember that you want to make the best impression possible. The Hearing Officer Conference is less formal than going before a Judge or Commissioner. You will sit in a small office across from the Hearing Officer and next to the opposing party and his/her attorney. The Hearing Officer will explain what will take place at the Conference and that each party will have his/her own turn to talk. The Hearing Officer will listen to both sides, find out what arrangements you agree to and what arrangements you do not agree to.
Consent Agreements are Preferred, But the Hearing Officer Will Make His/Her Own Recommendations
The Hearing Officer prefers for the parties to agree. If you agree, the Hearing Officer will write down your agreement as a "stipulation." If you are unable to come to an agreement on any specific detail of your custody arrangement, then the Hearing Officer will make his/her own recommendations. The parties' stipulations and the Hearing Officer's recommendations will be reduced to a written Judgment, which is binding on all parties. Failure to abide by the Judgment is grounds for contempt of court.
Objecting to the Domestic Hearing Officer Recommendations or Orders
If you disagree with the Domestic Hearing Officer's Recommendations or Orders, you have three (3) days to file a written objection to the recommendation or order. You will later go before a Judge or Domestic Commissioner to present your objection.
What is Good Advice for a Hearing Officer Conference?
First, you should be respectful, not only to the Hearing Officer but also to the opposing party and his/her attorney. Even if you disagree with everything being said, you should wait for your turn to talk. You should not raise your voice or try to talk over anyone else in the room. The Hearing Officer will give you your turn to speak. Bring a notepad and write down your thoughts while the other party is speaking. This will help prevent you from interrupting the other party and will keep you from forgetting your thoughts. This is very hard advice to follow, but you will be better off if you follow it. Second, you should be honest and consistent. The Hearing Officer will notice if you change your story. Decide on a list of decisions before the conference. (Some issues you should consider include: living arrangements, time allocation schedules and visitation, transportation, holidays and vacations, education and religious training, medical care, communication, extracurricular activities, and evacuation plans.) Third, you should consult an attorney, if possible. There are many considerations and the right attorney can make a major difference in your case.
Additional resources provided by the author
For more information, please read the Twenty Fourth Judicial District Court's Domestic Rules, available online at: www.24jdc.us/domestic.asp.
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