Whether you or your child’s father originally filed custody petitions, it’s a pretty scary process. If he has an attorney and you don’t, it’s probably especially scary. Though there’s no rule that says you have to have an attorney in any divorce or custody cases in Virginia, navigating the system on your own can be tricky, especially the longer your case drags out. Lately, I’ve heard a couple horror stories from moms who were up against their husband’s savvy custody attorneys, and I’ve had to give advice for what to do when your goal is getting your Virginia juvenile court custody case continued.
It’s not always easy getting your Virginia juvenile court custody case continued. Whether it’s even possible depends a lot on the particular facts of your unique case. Still, as a pro se litigant (someone who doesn’t have an attorney), there are allowances the court will make for you in a lot of cases. (Though, of course, you can’t ever assume that a judge will grant your request for a continuance or anything else just because you’re pro se; still, though, there is probably a greater chance that he or she will take pity on you and allow you to do things that people represented by counsel couldn’t do.)
The longer you’ve known about your court date, the less likely you are to be granted a continuance because it would be prejudicial to the other side, who have had to prepare for whatever it is you’re trying to avoid. Still, getting your Virginia juvenile court custody case continued is a possibility, especially if you use a couple of specific tried and true tactics.
1. Tell the court you need more time to hire an attorney.
A lot of times, especially for initial appearances in juvenile court, there isn’t a whole lot of notice between when you’re served and your first appearance. Though these appearances typically aren’t a big deal (unless you don’t show up), and generally just consist of determining the issues, setting the trial date, and appointing a guardian ad litem, you may still need some time to get your feet under you.
If you tell the judge you need some time to interview and hire an attorney, the judge is likely to be sympathetic. This excuse will only work once, though, so the next time you face the judge you’d better have hired someone—or be prepared to move forward on your own.
2. Were you served properly? If you didn’t hear about the hearing because of improper service of process, you may be able to delay.
In Virginia, you have to be formally served with notice of your upcoming hearing. If you weren’t served and you found out about the case in some other way, you may be able to argue to the judge that it would be prejudicial to you to move forward.
Not sure whether what you received was proper? This might be a good time to talk to an attorney about what happened and whether you received the notice required by law.
3. Divest the juvenile court of jurisdiction. If you and your child’s father are married, file for divorce.
The juvenile court can only determine custody and visitation if a divorce isn’t pending; if a divorce is pending, the circuit court will have jurisdiction over it. At the time that a divorce is filed in the circuit court, the entire case would move from the juvenile court to the circuit court. This is a tricky (but useful) tactic if you get down to the wire and need to do something to stall, stat.
Of course, it’s also a double edged sword. The circuit court is notoriously less user friendly and less inclined to be sympathetic to pro se litigants. It might be that, at this point, you really do have to hire an attorney anyway. It’s always important to weigh the benefits and risks of any particular course of action, so you might want to talk to an attorney before you divest the juvenile court of jurisdiction in your case.
I have an attorney! Do these tricks still apply if getting my Virginia juvenile court custody case continued is my goal?
Well, obviously, once you’ve hired an attorney, you’re not going to be able to show up and tell the court you need more time to hire an attorney. Still, some of these other tricks will work if you need a continuance (especially divesting the juvenile court of jurisdiction), but, for the most part, attorneys discuss and request continuances between and amongst themselves. It’s not uncommon to ask opposing counsel for a continuance.
Though they can say no and choose to press forward anyway, it’s often a matter of collegiality, so we are inclined to be sympathetic towards each other. (After all, we have to continue working with these other attorneys for the rest of our careers!)
If getting a continuance in your Virginia juvenile court custody case is super important to you, talk to your attorney about your options. But, no matter what, don’t forget the cardinal rule of Virginia court custody cases:
Never, ever fail to show up for a scheduled court date. Ever.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but apparently I do. It seems like fairly often we have a mom call in, frantic because she missed a court date and the judge gave dad custody of the kids. We had one just a few weeks ago, in fact, who lost custody. She told me that she was on bedrest with her latest pregnancy, which sounds good but, unfortunately, not showing up without notifying the court is really not an option. Even sending someone else in your place (which she didn’t do) isn’t going to work.
If you have a court date, you need to be there. If you really can’t be there, you should hire an attorney and figure out what your next steps can be from there. Simply not showing up is not an option under any circumstances.
Getting your Virginia juvenile court child custody case continued isn’t always easy, but it is sometimes possible. Whether you’re hoping to secure representation or are wanting to represent yourself, you’ll need to be prepared for everything your child’s father’s attorney could throw at you. The best way to prepare? Attend Custody Bootcamp for Moms. It’s an intense, all day seminar designed to help Virginia moms prepare for their Virginia juvenile court child custody cases, and there’s no other seminar like it (and certainly nothing for dads). To find out whether Custody Bootcamp for Moms is the lifeline you need, request a copy of our free report, “Can I REALLY Represent Myself in a Custody Case?” by clicking here. To schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.