Do You Advise Your Clients To Keep A Journal Of Incidents With The Alienating Parent?

Attorney Kelly Peterson advises all of his clients to keep a journal of any incidents that occur in custody cases. For parental alienation cases, he has them go a step further. One of the things that he does to help reduce their costs, while at the same time increasing the efficiency of their attorney, is he has clients do a chronology of events with very specific instructions. The chronology is designed to weed out the irrelevant information from the relevant.

The goal of the chronology is to spoon feed the evidence as clearly and simply to the fact finder, backing up every assertion with citations to supporting documentation. Judges are people too, and their eyes glaze over if there’s too much “he said, she said” disorganized, gray areas or irrelevant information shoved at them.

Too many people make the mistake of just dumping a bunch of that type of information on a judge and expecting them to magically sort it out. Judges do not have super-human abilities of concentration, patience, or avoidance. The attorney’s job is to reduce and simplify making it easy for the judge to clearly see the important information. Also by doing this, it reduces the amount of time that the attorney has to spend sorting through all of the documents and learning all of the facts, thereby significantly reducing the amount of money clients spend on attorney’s fees.

Attorney Peterson has his clients make two columns. On the left they put the approximate date or the date range in which the event took place. On the right, they are to describe the event in full sentences. Often people write their feelings in the journal. They write characterizations or conclusionary statements when they should only be recording only facts.

For example, someone may write, “He was belligerent and abusive towards me.”

Whether something was belligerent or abusive is a conclusion or a characterization of a fact, not a fact. The court is the one who decides if a behavior rises to the level of belligerent or abusive. Clients should only assert facts. For instance, “He pushed me and yelled.”

That is a fact, not a conclusion. There is a difference. On the left-hand side, Attorney Peterson doesn’t have them explain the relevance of the fact that is on the right-hand side. Usually, the relevance of the fact will be apparent without further explanation, but there are exceptions.

If they feel that further explanation is necessary Attorney Peterson will have them do so in a footnote. It’s always better to have clients lean on the side of too much information instead of too little. If they think something could be relevant but they aren’t sure, it is best to add it in. It’s easier to remove an irrelevant detail than have to go back and get additional details later on. However, generally the person should go back in chronology all the way to the beginning of the relationship with the other side.

Some people start by memory. Others want to collect all relevant documents including emails, affidavits, court orders, text messages, transcripts, police reports and whatever documentation supports their position. Attorney Peterson then has the client put everything in chronological order and then start highlighting. Anything that is highlighted then gets used to start building the beginning of the chronology. Once that information is put together, it will create a kind of scaffolding or a framework that can be built upon from the things that only come by memory and there is no documentation backing it up. Attorney Peterson encourages his clients when they are doing this to use actual quotes from text messages, emails, reports, orders and what was said.

Additionally he advises to do the same even if it is only by memory and there are no documents to back it up. Quote everyone from the opposing party. Quote the children, the therapist, case workers, police officers, doctors, etc., even if it is hearsay.

Attorney Peterson also has his clients go ahead and write the things that are detrimental to their case; things that they don’t necessarily want the judge to know about. The reason behind this is because he, as the attorney, needs to be aware of any possible issues that could come up. He has them do that in red text so he knows what to consider removing or tweaking before the chronology or the facts in the chronology are released to anyone.

As they are doing this chronology, if a fact can only be supported by a memory that’s okay. However, if the fact can also be supported by documentation such as a text message, an email, or a therapy record, for example, Attorney Peterson will have the client assign it to an exhibit number, and then cite to the exhibit immediately after writing the fact. When they go through this process it lays out their entire case beautifully beyond what a normal journal entry would be. It significantly reduces their attorney fees while at the same time making the attorney more efficient in their case.

For more information on Keeping A Journal Of Incidents, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children