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American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

Winter 2009

Vol. 5, No. 2

Family Law

 

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

We are now in a world of cameras. It seems that everyone carries a digital camera with them. If they don’t have their camera, they have a mobile phone that has a built in camera. With this technology families are taking more and more pictures of their children, their pets and about everything else. It is time for the family law practitioner to use this resource in his or her family law practice.

The obvious place where this technology will come in handy is in custody cases. You should always ask your client to put together an album or two of the client with the children. Although the judge will hear about the kids for days of trial, only the photo albums will really let the judge see the relationship between your client and the children. If you ask early enough, you may have several months of photos waiting to be taken. It is great to have your client taking the children trick or treating in costumes they made together. It also helps to show the judge the children’s bedrooms and drives home the fact that this is where the child has his or her stuff and all the love that went into decorating the room.

It is important to get the pictures introduced early in the proceedings in hope that the judge will look at the pictures during a break. If the case takes several days, the pictures may be what the judge uses to refresh his recollection of the case. It could be a great thing for your client.

Pictures can also be used to show the court the important pieces of property that are being fought over in the divorce. If one side values something as worth a bunch of money and you have a picture of it looking like junk, it will have a pronounced effect on the judge’s valuation of that piece of property. It may actually cause the judge to discount all of the values of the other side and have the judge look to you for the actual values.

Finally, pictures can show some of the more depressing things of family law. Beer bottles in the back of pickups, trashed front yards, bruises on kids, and exactly how they are dressed when the kids come home from a weekend visitation. I have had clients take videos of the other party during visitation exchanges showing abusive conduct in front of the children. Although I would recommend that you have your client be sensitive of the child’s feelings about being in these photographs, some of the pictures may be very helpful to explain the shortcomings of the other parent.

As always, you and your client must use good judgment about when and where to take pictures and when to use them. I have had clients come in with pictures that just shock me. If there is anything in the photo albums that would give the other side some advantage, remove it. Be sensitive of how the pictures can be turned against your client. Also, if you ask for pictures and your client does not have any, ask why. It may be because the client is the picture taker of the family. Hopefully there will be time to get those pictures taken. But if the reason that there are no pictures is because the client is never around, then you need to know that also. It may tell you that you fight for custody will be harder than you thought.

Brian T. Hermanson is general practitioner at the Hermanson Law Office in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He can be reached at bhermanson@oklawhoma.com.

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