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AVOIDING INCRIMINATING WRITINGS TO OPPOSING PARTIES IN FAMILY LAW CASES
Keep It Concise, Kind, and limited in Scope (K.I.C.K.S.)
Incriminating writings by parties involved in family law cases are becoming more prevalent. This is not surprising, given the increasing popularity of email and texting and the proliferation of social media. Sending a permanent, written communication to an ex-significant other is now just a click away.
It’s not that the individuals who prepare these incriminating documents are trying to be mean or vindictive. Their heart is oftentimes in the right place, but they fail to consider how their writing will actually be perceived by their intended recipient or more importantly, by third parties such as the judge.
The problem is perception. When people write about something they are passionate about, they sometimes become delusional. They believe the reader will see exactly where they are coming from and agree with their position. In reality the reader, who hasn’t shared the same experiences, will oftentimes disagree with the author’s position and will be critical of what was written.
There are some great examples of delusional writers in the movies. Two of my favorite examples are in Jerry Maguire and A Christmas Story. In each, there is a character who writes something he is passionate about. They each sincerely believe their writing will change the opinion of the reader, but not only do they fail to change the reader’s opinion, each writing has disastrous consequences. In Jerry Maguire, Jerry’s mission statement gets him fired. In A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s theme paper not only receives a poor grade, but he gets a P.S. from the teacher, saying that if he were to receive his coveted Red Rider BB Gun, he would shoot his eye out.
To help people avoid incriminating writings in family law cases, I have developed an acronym. We have all heard of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). My acronym is a knockoff of that: K.I.C.K.S. (Keep It Concise, Kind, and limited in Scope).
Concise writing is the first step in avoiding incriminating writings. The more volume you produce, the more careless you can get, and the more opportunity there is for a portion of your writing to be used against you. Your writings to your ex-significant other should be limited to a few sentences and cover just the bare facts of what you need to communicate.
Kindness is also important. The tone of your writings to the other party should always be business-like and cordial. Begin the writing with a salutation or greeting. End the writing with a thank you or well wishes. Even in the most cantankerous of cases, a little kindness can go a long way.
Finally, and most importantly, the scope of your writing needs to be limited to just the basic facts/questions you need to get across to sustain your day-to-day life. This is not the time to discuss the inadequacies of your ex-significant other or try to repair old wounds. If you feel like you need to talk these things out, please do it in person, or better yet, speak with friends, family members or a licensed professional.
Once a lawsuit is filed, your relationship ceases to be romantic or familial and converts to a business-like relationship. Whether you are in the business of obtaining a favorable custody order or paying less support, make sure you don’t jeopardize your case by putting something incriminating in writing.
Joe Kuhl is a partner with Shea Kohl Law, LC. He has been with the firm since 2004.
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