How to Behave in Family Court and Tips to Avoid Pissing off a California Family Judge
If you want to avoid making a bad impression on the family court judge in your case, or if you have already made a bad impression and want to improve relations with the court moving forward, keep reading!
Family court judges have a stressful job. They are often overburdened with an outrageous caseload, and an insufficient court staff. These judges have to make decisions impacting the lives of litigants as well as their children, every day. No matter what decision the family court judge makes, one of the parties is generally unhappy (to put it mildly).
With all of this in mind, there a few ways you can avoid being one of those unhappy parties at the end of your family law case.
#1 – File Complete and Correct Documents – Judges Are Not Mind Readers
You may know your ex is a liar and the scum of the earth, but the judge doesn’t know anything about either of you. Don’t assume the judge is able to just look at the two of you and know which is the better parent, who is telling the truth, or more importantly, the facts of your case.
If you don’t provide the court with the facts and evidence to back up what you are telling him/her at your hearing, the judge is left with only your word and the word of the opposing party. Again, the judge knows nothing about either of you or your child.
When you are drafting a Request for Order (RFO), a Response, or any other document, include all relevant facts and information as well as any evidence to back it up (i.e. text messages, phone records, school records, pay stubs, deeds of title, etc.)
If there is an issue that you are going to bring up at the hearing, it should be in your pleadings so that the court and the other side have notice of it.
#2 – Serve All Documents on the Other Side and File a Proof of Service
Everyone is entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard on all issues the court is going to be making decisions about. It is not only important to file complete documentation with the court, but provide those documents to the other side ahead of time, and file a Proof of Service so the court knows the other side has received the documents.
If you have not filed a Proof of Service, the judge may not even read your documents because the hearing will likely be continued anyway and judges don’t waste time reading documents for cases that are not going forward.
#3 – Be Respectful to the Judge and the Other Side
Being respectful to the court is more than just adopting a certain tone of voice, waiting your turn to speak, and refraining from cursing. It also has to do with your demeanor and appearance.
Showing up to court in torn jeans and flip flops tends to show the judge that you don’t respect the court, you don’t take any of this very seriously, and you don’t care about whatever the subject matter of the hearing is (i.e. your property or your child).
Rolling your eyes, scoffing, spinning in your chair, throwing up your hands, and slouching are all likewise disrespectful to the court. If you are in court trying to get more visitation time with your child, for example, this kind of behavior just shows the court you probably shouldn’t have it.
It should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t, interrupting the judge or the other side is the fastest way to anger a judge. Everyone will have a chance to speak, there is no need to interrupt.
Many pro per litigants end up raising their hand in the air when they want to speak. This is not necessarily advisable, but if you find yourself unable to control your desire to interrupt any longer, raising your hand like a school child is still a preferable alternative to just interrupting.
#4 – Address the Court, Not The Other Attorney or the Other Party
Your hearing is your opportunity to address the court, not your ex or their attorney. You could have, and generally should have, spoken with them before the hearing, so don’t waste your time and the court’s time talking to them when you have the judge sitting up there waiting to be addressed.
Don’t lean over to look at the other side, don’t point at the other side, don’t whisper to them, and don’t talk to them during your hearing.
Not only is it simply inappropriate and rude to the court, it may appear that you are trying to intimidate your ex. If you can’t even refrain from intimidating your ex during your hearing, any reasonable person (including your judge), will assume you do so outside of that courtroom. This is especially important if you are being accused of any kind of domestic violence and wish to refute the accusations.
#5 – Never Lie to or Mislead the Court
This does not necessarily just have to do with telling the judge an outright lie about a fact of the case, it has to do with offering misleading information and inflammatory arguments with no basis in fact (or law).
Many times, parties and attorneys will offer the court a kernel of truth, knowing that the kernel will lead the court to believe an untrue fact, intending to mislead the court.
Alert the court to contra legal authorities. You may get away with failing to do so once or twice, but after that your reputation with the court will be lost – either you didn’t do your homework, or you are trying to mislead the court for your own benefit.
Once a judge gets fixed on the idea that your information is untrustworthy, it will pervade the judge’s opinion of you throughout your case. If you goal is to “win” child custody, for example, your credibility is always important.
If your position in the case or a particular issue is weak, admit it, offer your best argument and facts that support your position, and move on. If you lie, the judge will not forget it, and family law attorneys absolutely love it when the other side lies to the court. We jump on the lie, using it to discredit everything you say and distract from any facts or evidence that is not helpful to our client’s case.
Navigating the legal process can be complicated and daunting without the right child custody lawyer or divorce attorney. If you have questions regarding the topic discussed in this article, it is advisable to contact us online for a free consultation to find out what your options are.