Conduct a background check on parties, witnesses and lawyers.
Before you go to trial on a child custody case, you may find it very useful to conduct an online background check on the other parent, his or her lawyer, and their witnesses. In fact, a background check could be one of the most strategic maneuvers you take in preparation for the trial.
An online background check can provide all kinds of interesting information: (1) Your ex is inexplicably the father of another child you never knew about; (2) Your ex’s lawyer is appearing without authority because she has been temporarily suspended from the practice of law; (3) The main witness the other side intends to call at trial has a deep criminal record for theft, fraud, forgery and other crimes of dishonesty; (4) The home where your ex is living (and where she intends to see the children) is titled to a registered sex offender. These are just a few examples.
There are many online search firms such as intelius.com, ancestry.com, and PeopleFinders.com, which charge for many of their services. You can also access government records offices and vital records departments which maintain registries of marriage and divorce records, birth and death records and property ownership records.
Frequently, parents in Family Court are ambushed by smarter parents (and their lawyers) who have done their homework online. For example, assume that the judge has ordered both sides to disclose to each other, one week prior to the custody trial, the names of all witnesses they intend to call at trial. You should analyze your opponent’s list. If you discovered, for example, by doing an online search that one of the witnesses had a lengthy criminal past, you may be able to impeach that witness’s testimony by cross-examining him on his prior convictions. “Now, Mr. Smith, you claim that the testimony you gave here today is all truthful. Are you the same Mr. Smith who was convicted in 2008 of theft by false pretenses? And are you the same Mr. Smith who went to jail in 2007 for bank fraud? I have no further questions.”
Not every online search produces valuable information or incriminating evidence. Not every search produces admissible or relevant evidence. But it is better to conduct these searches prior to trial. Nothing is a substitute for preparedness.
In fact, if you plan to use a lawyer you have some doubts about, or if you are calling a witness you don’t know very well, you may wish to conduct a background search on your own lawyer and witnesses. Better safe than sorry.
Let me know if you’ve had any successes with background searches in your cases.