As family law professionals, we fully understand that going to family court to try and solve a problem is often one of the most stressful and potentially expensive events that can take place in your life. It is also one of the least efficient ways to problem solve, too.
Through this article, we hope to help you understand the Court’s point of view, so you can better understand why your judge may be making the decisions they make in your case.
Each judge comes to the bench after years of practicing law as an attorney. Some judges were bankruptcy lawyers, some were criminal prosecutors, while others practiced in other areas of the law. When they became judges, they were probably randomly assigned to the family law bench, usually with little or no actual family law experience or even a solid understanding of how the family court process works. The good news is that all new judges go to “judge school” to learn their job and your judge may have been on the family court bench for many years, having handled thousands of cases before yours. One thing that is for sure, judges get a lot of experience in a short amount of time because family court is always busy.
Your judge might be married, single, or divorced, they might have children of their own and they might not. They probably had good experiences with certain types of people, and bad experiences with others. No matter what, they have a lifetime of experience that they bring with them to court each day. We call these implicit biases, which in a in a perfect world, are influences that the judge can put aside, so they can remain neutral and make well-reasoned decisions in your case - decisions that you will ultimately have to live with.
However, judges, like all of us, are human. Some judges feel strongly about one thing and other judges don’t find those things all that important. As such, we have found it extremely helpful to know and understand each judge we appear before, so that we can tailor our client’s case to what their specific judicial officer likes and perhaps more importantly, dislikes.
Judges we have talked to report that they have close to 10,000 cases assigned to them at any given time, and on an average court day, they handle about ten to fifteen different cases in the morning alone. The afternoon is usually reserved for longer hearings and trials, which are often scheduled several months in advance.
This means that your judge has, on average, less than fifteen minutes for each case that they will be deciding each day and usually less, because the court usually closes for a few minutes, so that the staff can take a break and catch up on paperwork. Because of this, the judge wants to conduct their hearings in a certain manner, so as to be as efficient as possible.
What the court is really looking for is a succinct statement of the problem you want to solve, what your proposed solution is and why you believe that solution is the best way to solve that problem. The court wants you to have your paperwork in order and filed on time, so when your case is finally called, the judge can efficiently move through your case and on to the next one.
Ideally, the judge wants you to solve your own problems and then come to them to have your solution made an official order of the court. In many cases, that’s not practical, but the court expects you to try and if you can’t reach a solution on your own, the judge wants you to be as efficient with their time as possible. If you don’t, you risk raising the ire of the judge and while we won’t say that some people get punished, we will say that it can have a negative effect on your case as the judge is going to make some sort of ruling, like it or not.
What the judge does not want to do, however, is to listen to “he said, she said” drama, or try and solve the parties’ emotional problems. In our experience, once this happens, you risk losing the judge’s attention and thus their ability to fashion the most optimal order for your case. To be clear, family problems are emotional, however, the best place to deal with those emotions is through counseling and not through the court system. Time is precious to judges, and should be reserved for problem solving, not playing the blame game. The judge is simply not equipped to help you with the emotional fall out from a failed marriage, an abusive partner or a bad co-parent. The remedies the court has for those problems are legal and not psychological. Judges can order counseling in certain circumstances, however, you are probably much better off dealing with therapy issues outside court and using your valuable court time to solve problems that no one else can.
The court will demand that each party act civilly towards each other and not bicker. The court expects you to talk directly to the judge and not talk to each other. When the judge starts talking, they insist that everyone else immediately stop talking, even if you were in the middle of a thought or sentence. Lastly, the court reporter, who is typing every word that is said in court, can’t make an accurate record if more than one person is talking at the same time, so make a good impression on your judge and be polite, respectful and fully prepared to assist in solving whatever problem brought you to court in the first place. It will go a long way in making a positive impression that just might lead to a more favorable ruling.
We understand that this is an extremely simplistic overview of what can otherwise be a complex environment, but we hope that this provides you with a little better understanding of life from your judge’s perspective. We have spent more than 20 years learning the best ways to work through problems in family court and we are here to help you, too.