What Do Judges Want?
Going through a divorce is one of the most traumatic events in anyone’s life. The legal system is confusing to say the least. In a divorce everyone puts his and her lives in the hands of a stranger wearing a black robe. A judge is an elected, or in some instances, appointed official, who decides everything about your life in a divorce, including where your children will live, how much child support will be paid, whether or not and how much alimony will be paid, as well as how your property is handled. This includes the division of all assets and debts. When you go before a judge, you lose control over these major decisions impacting upon your lives and the lives of your children.
Following are some do’s and don’ts for court appearances based upon my many years of experience in the court room.
1. Be prepared. This means that you and your attorney have to communicate in advance of any court appearances. It is important to understand what will be happening, and exactly what the consequences are. It is imperative that you and your attorney are prepared for any court appearances. The worse impression that can be made in court is to have your attorney fumbling through papers or notes, not knowing the facts of the case, and being unprepared.
2 Be brief and to the point. Some attorneys believe that you can overpower the other side by going on and on until everyone is exhausted. While some judges may be swayed by this, a much better approach is to be brief and to the point. If you can get your point across as to what you want and why in five or ten minutes, do so. Don’t take a half hour to get your point across. Judges want to know what you want and why.
3. Dress appropriately. First impressions are important. With our casual life styles, and this may differ from state to state, but I believe an attorney should always be dressed in a suit and tie as a man, and for a woman, either a skirted suit or a nice pant suit. Clients should not be wearing jeans or shorts, but should be dressed for business. I recommend that my male clients, if possible, wear a suit or sport coat and tie, and my female clients be dressed in a skirt or pant suit, but clearly not in jeans or cutoffs. Remember that when you are in court, you are trying to win your case. This means through preparation, and presentation, including how you are dressed. Do not chew gum in Court, and do not use any cell phones.
4. Make your own decisions. While judges are paid to make decisions, their preference is to have you make the decisions yourself. I have found that going before a judge should be the last resort, not the first. In the Detroit Metropolitan Area of Michigan where I practice, every judge is handling thousands of cases. Most judges in a divorce will see you perhaps once or twice in a simple uncontested case. The high conflict, hotly contested cases are those where people are in court almost every week. It is much better to fly under the radar, so to speak, and not be known. The judges who see you every week will know you, and too often will develop a very strong negative impression, especially if you are the one who is being unreasonable.
5. Be reasonable. Don’t ask for the sun and the moon. Don’t be unrealistic. I have found over the years that attorneys who are unrealistic in presenting a case will often fail. A good attorney is going to tell you the realities of a divorce. These include the realities with regard to child related issues, as well as the economic issues. If you are totally unrealistic, you will end up in trial, and you will most likely end up with a poor result.
6. Judges are Human. Remember that judges have very busy dockets. They don’t know you. Believe it or not, with the same set of facts going before a different judge, you may get a different result. In divorce and other family law issues, you are dealing with fact-specific issues along with legal issues. The quality of justice can be very uneven. There are some wonderful judges who make phenomenal decisions, but all judges are human. All judges take their life experience to the bench. I have found over the years that many women judges can be tougher on women than their male counterparts, because their attitude is they work, they can earn a living, and therefore a woman should be able to work and earn a living as well. Personalities enter into the legal arena in court to a large degree.
7. My Five Variables. I have told my clients over the years that there are at least five variables in every divorce. Think about this. The first variable is who you are, your reason for wanting to save or end the marriage. The second variable is your spouse, and his or her perspective and reasons for wanting to save or end the marriage. The third variable is your attorney, and how knowledgeable and experienced and what his or her approach is. The fourth variable is the opposing attorney. The fifth is the judge. Think about all of these variables before deciding whether or not to go to trial. In most instances, you can achieve a better result through negotiation, mediation, or settlement, than through trial. Once you are in trial, you will be saying things that you cannot take back. This can create tremendous damage, not only to yourself and your spouse, but also to your children.
By: HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
40900 Woodward Avenue, Ste. 111
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
248/594-3444; Fax 248/594-3222