The Importance of Building a Record — Responsibly

by LaMantia Law Firm
April 23, 2012

Just when sports fans across the country thought they had heard the last from “Neon” Deion Sanders, the retired flamboyant defensive back has managed to work his way back into the news.  Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t for kick returns or interceptions, but rather for his very public handling of a family law issue.

According to Twitchy.com, an aggregator of postings on social network Twitter, at some point mid-day on April 23, 2012 the former Dallas Cowboy tweeted live as estranged wife Pilar allegedly attacked him at his Dallas, Texas home — right in front of the couple’s two sons.

Sanders first tweeted this:

@DeionSanders Pray for me and my kids now! They just witnessed their mother and a friend jump me in my room. She’s going to jail n I’m pressing charges!

Then, Sanders tweeted this:

@DeionSanders I’m sad my boys witnessed this mess but I warned the police department here that she was gone try n harm me and my boys. This is on my mama!

Finally, Sanders tweeted the following message, and included with it a link to a photo of the former football star and his children filling out police reports:

Deion Sanders and Children Filling out Police Report of Domestic Violence

@DeionSanders Filling out police reports now! Thank God for this platform to issue the Truth.

Most of the responses noted at the Twitchy site were not friendly to Mr. Sanders.  Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out that “when Twitter was invented, no one envisioned live Deion Sanders domestic dispute updates.”  One woman suggested to Sanders that he “stop using your kids” and “get their picture off Twitter.”  Another woman blasted Sanders, stating that he “needs to log off Twitter and tend to his family issues.”

Personally, dealing with the issues we deal with at The LaMantia Law Firm on a daily basis, I cannot underscore enough how important it is to build a record of what is going on.  Judges in the Family Court here in South Carolina have quite a bit on their plate and have no help from law clerks to sort through everything — for that reason, every case is essentially a case of first impression, and a well-organized record serves the interests of any client in two ways:

First, a well-built record provides evidential support in a practice area often dominated by unsupported he said-she said arguments.  Arguing that a spouse said one irresponsible or shocking thing or another in a certain situation is just fine, for example, but showing the text messages sent from that spouse to the judge as an exhibit to an affidavit is far more effective.

In a recent case, our client’s estranged spouse is an angry, angry person, and our client’s account of what she said during a particular verbal altercation is gripping.  Even better, however, is that we have a word-for-word transcript of what was said.  And, even better than that — we have an audio recording.  Without that transcript and audio recording (our client activated a smartphone application after enduring the spouse’s angry tirades before) it would merely be our client’s paraphrased word against the spouse’s word; now, however, we can not only show exactly what was said, but the court can actually experience the spouse’s anger.

Second, the act of organizing a well-built and comprehensive record is an excellent way for attorneys like Anthony, Allison and myself to become so extensively acquainted with the client’s file as a whole that we end up knowing the facts as well as the client themselves.  Knowing a file backwards and forwards in such a way provides for the kind of detailed recall that can only help in the litigation process.

So, what are some ways to build a complete and comprehensive record?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep a daily diary.  Even if no further evidential support exists, being able to inform the court that “on this particular day and at this particular time, this particular event happened” is much better than merely recalling the event without the extra detail.  Be sure to keep track of not only dates and times of events, but also how those events made you feel.
  • When possible, only communicate through text and e-mail.  Text messages and e-mail messages can be easily printed out, whereas telephone conversations or personal conversations are subject to the uncertainty of he said-she said disparities.
  • Take photographs.  While I’m not saying to give your children a top-to-bottom inspection like an agent accepting the return of a rental car, if your child consistently returns from visitation with new scrapes, bumps and bruises that simply cannot be a result of a kid just being a kid, photographic evidence of the sort that can be time-stamped is an absolute must.
  • Use social media.  No, don’t take to your Facebook wall to denigrate your current or former significant other; those who come across as vindictive rarely achieve their goals.  Instead, use social media as a way to show everything you do with your children, or as a way to proclaim that staying at home with a small glass of wine and a good book is preferable to going out on the town while currently involved in a divorce.
  • Be a pack rat.  Get a new report card from the children?  Receive a new bank statement in the mail?  Take home a receipt from CostCo after buying the economy sized box of diapers?  Don’t throw them out!  Those are all items that can be used to buttress arguments in court that could otherwise fall flat without evidential support.  It’s one thing to tell the court that, “yes, I’m the one that takes little Timmy to check-ups all the time” — it’s a whole lot better to show that you were the one who paid the bill after the pediatrician did his or her thing.

There are many, many ways to build a record.  Think of what you want to tell the court about what’s going on, and consider the best way to prove what you’re wanting to say.  All that being said, however, it is very important that the record being built is being put together in a responsible way.

As noted above, photographs can be extremely useful.  However, telling your child that you’re logging his or her injuries so you can tell your lawyer is probably not a good thing.  Be creative; find a way to achieve the desired results without burdening your child with the current situation.  Using social media can be fantastic, too, but if your kids are also on Facebook or Twitter, be wary of what you say or what you insinuate with regard to your marital or custody proceedings.

I have absolutely no problem that Deion Sanders’ first instinct was to preserve the record of his estranged wife’s interference with his peaceful enjoyment of life.  Where I have a problem is in his further involvement of his children in the marital litigation.

Here in South Carolina, what the children witnessed would be something that should have been told to a Guardian ad Litem.  In my opinion, having the children fill out dad’s name as “victim” and mom’s name as “subject” in the local agency’s Incident Report causes more harm than good — both to the children and to Mr. Sanders’s case.

First of all, the children are already likely under enough stress due to a divorce already deemed “ugly” by Yahoo! News; these boys should be worried about getting their homework done, having fun with friends, competing in Little League, and finishing the school year up strongly — not being witnesses to dad’s case against mom.  Secondly, while I cannot speak for the Family Court in the Lone Star State, here in the Palmetto State the court frowns quite clearly on any involvement of the children in marital or custody proceedings.

Anything of value added to Mr. Sanders’ case due to the availability of two extra witnesses will be overshadowed by the court’s perception of Mr. Sanders as a father who is not above using his children as pawns in his marital litigation.  Ms. Sanders already involved the children.  Ms. Sanders already did the dirty work and made things significantly more difficult for herself.  Mr. Sanders should have done his level best to extricate and insulate the children from the situation; involving them in the way he did takes away from the brazen nature of Ms. Sanders’ disregard for the best interests of the children.

Here in South Carolina, marital and custodial matters can be very nuanced, and given the nature of the Family Court, perception is everything.  Here at The LaMantia Law Firm, we would be more than happy to discuss the details of your case with you — call me, call Anthony, or call Allison to schedule a free consultation.