Family Court Judges are humans just like the rest of us, whether you or they think it or not. Like us, they get up in the morning, get dressed, and make their way to the Courtroom. Along the way, like us, they got dressed, perhaps fought some traffic, and went into the Courtroom planning to see justice served.
For the litigants, justice is the hope, and for Judges, it is their job. Judges and Lawyers don’t always see eye to eye, nor do the litigants, whether with the Judge, their lawyer, or their ex. In essence, you are dealing with a situation of five people in one room operating from whatever experiences they had minutes, hours, days or years before your case. If anyone in the group had a bad night or treacherous morning, someone is going to feel it. Everyone there is human, remember?
As humans, like us, Judges are all different. Beyond their black robes, I can say for sure that they are each unique, but the “one thing” they all share is an expectation of respect. The Judges will show respect to you, and in turn, they expect respect from you. They may not say it (but some do) but you can pick up on clues from their demeanor just what they might be thinking, and it’s not always good.
Respect in Family Court comes down to a few simple things:
Dress: Arguably a Judge could wear just about anything under that black robe. Who would know? However most Judges still wear business wear (suit and if a man, a tie) and expect that you will come to court neat and well dressed. I once read a study concluding that in 7 seconds people can make up to 30 judgments about a person based on their appearance. Don’t go to court looking like you’re going out for a night on the town, and certainly don’t go to Court as if you are hitting the gym afterward. Take pride in your appearance. If you are there looking to get things done then look the part! If you own a suit, wear it. Don’t think that by trying to look disheveled or impoverished that the Court will take some kind of additional empathy for you.
Demeanor: Sit in the first row or as close to it as you can get. Sit straight up and let yourself be seen. Don’t make conversation with those around you. Make sure your cell phone is turned off and put away. Don’t “make friends” with other litigants. Remember, Judges are human and you never know who that litigant may be or what impressions he or she has made on the Court. If the Judge is talking to you, let him or her finish. Do not interrupt him or her. The Judge will give you the chance to speak. If your spouse is talking, do not interrupt or sigh, or roll your eyes no matter what he says. You or your lawyer will get your turn.
Preparation: Keep your papers organized and in some type of carry case, not a shopping bag. Show that you take these proceedings, your paper, and your life seriously.
Attention: Bring a pad and paper and take notes (literally). First, it will help you keep track of going on, but also, it makes those around you more alert that you are present and taking notes.
These suggestions may seem obvious or even absurd to many of you, but again, we are all human, and I can’t tell you the number of times I have witnessed litigants, in a moment of upset, nerves or rage lose sense of who and where they are. These little things matter, trust me when I tell you.