You have hundreds of text messages between you and the other parent. You hand them all over to your lawyer, expecting the lawyer to be ecstatic that you can show every cancellation of parenting time, refusal to take the child to the doctor when sick, and general uncooperativeness. Yet, after pouring through them, the attorney looks up and advises that they probably will not make a big difference in the ultimate disposition of your custody case. “Why?” you ask with some bewilderment. How can this possibly be? It’s all right there, message after message. To make your text message relevant, consider the following three tips:
- Include the date and time stamps. Text messages, once screened shot, are often without date and time stamps. Without a date and time stamp, there is no ability to show when the message occurred and therefore lacks the foundational evidence needed to admit the messages at trial. Make sure to print out all the text messages so that the message clearly shows the date and time. If no date is indicated, make sure to write down the date when the message occurred and the time, and promptly send it to your attorney so the date and time can be recorded when submitting the texts as evidence.
- Limit the number. Hundreds of text messages (just like a stack of emails) are not going to be read by the judge. Make the most impact, not by the sheer quantity of messages, but instead by choosing a few that prove the point you are trying to make. A few well-chosen text messages will be more effective than submitting pages of screenshots that require the judge to go through them to try and understand the point you are making.
- Keep the string of text messages intact. Another common problem is the failure to include all the text messages within the conversation. While it is important to limit the number of messages you want the court to read, you also do not want to leave a message out. Otherwise, it will look as if you are only telling a part of the story.
Following the above steps will help ensure that the text messages you want to use in your case will actually be admitted into evidence and read by the judge.
About the Author
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office and co-chair of the firm’s Family Law Practice. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.