Getting divorced is different than other areas of the law. For example, in most civil trials, you get to choose whether you want your case decided by a jury. Not so in the family section of the courthouse.
Instead of your case being judged by a panel of your "peers," when you get divorced you get to have it heard and decided by one judge. Not members of the community who may sympathize or relate to your situation, not a panel of judges… it's just one judge.
It is this judge who not only presides and decides the trial, but he/she will be the judge for every hearing, motion and conference leading up to the trial. To put it in other words, your divorce judge will get to know you and your spouse from the moment the Complaint for Divorce is filed with the court until the trial, if there is one.
Typically, your divorce judge will get a first impression of the parties and the case a case management conference, which is where the parties get to bring up any special circumstances that they want the court to be aware of. The court sets a discovery schedule for the parties to follow and another date to return for another conference.
If it is a contentious divorce, then it's very possible that you or your spouse will file a motion with the court prior the first conference. If this is the case, then the motion papers and hearing will be the first time the judge gets to see and hear you or your attorney and "judge" you.
Make no mistake about it, your divorce judge is judging you and your spouse each and every time you appear in court and even when he/she reads your paper submissions on motions.
I always tell clients that judges are not machines; they are people just like you and me, who wear a black robe and sit a bit higher than everyone else. They have real biases and prejudices and while I believe that most divorce judges do their best to be neutral and objectively apply the law to each case, it's human nature for them to let their personal perspectives and biases to influence their decisions, even if it's on a subconscious level.
If your judge determines that they don't like you, then you will have an uphill battle and a tough time painting a different picture. That first impression is everything.
You will either come of credible, sympathetic and reasonable… or not. If not, good luck.
Instead of giving tips on how to repair your relationship with a judge who doesn't like you, I think it's better to focus on some suggestions so you are not in that situation to begin with.
Be on Time. It may sound simple and it is. Be on time to all hearings in court. Make sure to leave enough lead-time so you aren't running to the courtroom and are out of breath when the clerk calls your case. Going to court is serious and you need to be focused and in the right frame of mind. Don't be late.
Be polite and courteous . I'm not talking about just to the judge - that is obvious. From the moment you enter the courthouse, be polite to the security guards, court staff and even your soon-to-be-ex if you see him/her. Bite your tongue if you have to. Believe it or not, people are always watching you and word does get back to the judge if you are acting out, or being rude to court staff or others.
Take reasonable positions on issues . The moment you take an argumentative or unreasonable position, whether it's on alimony, custody, or division of the assets, the judge could turn on you. Judges appreciate litigants who are reasonable and show a good faith effort at settling the divorce. It may not work, but if you end up in front of a judge to decide an issue, such as interim financial support and you can prove that you have been acting reasonably, that can only help your cause.
Never interrupt…anyone . Don't do it…ever. Judges have many pet peeves, but the biggest one is probably when either litigants or attorneys interrupt them. It's a recipe for disaster and you shouldn't do it.
These are some fundamental approaches to make sure you work to keep the judge on your side. Try to stay rational and less emotional as you navigate your divorce.
Jason Levoy a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy is a divorce attorney who coaches people who can't afford an attorney how to represent themselves with confidence and integrity in their divorce. In addition to writing for major publications, he runs a premier online divorce membership community with video courses that teach you how to represent yourself like an attorney. Learn more about Jason at www.jasonlevoy.com .