What to Expect When You Have to Go to Court
Courtroom drama makes for good TV. Whenever I hear the all-t00-familiar “Duh Duh” tone of Law and Order, my heart skips a beat. (Incidentally, I learned courtroom procedure from Law and Order. True story.)
Exciting as it may be, courtroom drama does not belong in Family Law. I will be the first to say it – the courtroom is NOT where you want to resolve your family law issues. You are not suing Walmart for your slip and fall. You are not suing the guy who rear-ended your car. No.
In family law, it’s your EX. The one you have built your life together with. The one you have accounts, a home, possessions, and CHILDREN with.
You never have to deal with Walmart again. Your ex? It’s lifetime if you have children. Want revenge? NOT in court. Try self-help.
The majority of my clients are aware of this, and DO NOT want to go to Court. When you are dealing with family matters, it makes the most sense to work it out amongst yourselves. These are delicate issues that should not be decided by a complete stranger who knows nothing about your home life. And I urge all of you to consider every single possible option out there before Court. Has your attorney informed you all of the many different options out there?
Court should be your absolute last option. Try mediation!
For the unfortunate situations that require a Judge to make a ruling, here is what to expect:
What do I wear to Court?
You are in a court of law. You will be sworn in. It is a proper forum. Dress accordingly. No open toe shoes, mid-riff tops, short skirts, tight jeans, flip flops, and disrespectful attire.
What time should I arrive at Court?
In Los Angeles County, court is either on the morning calendar at 8:30 or afternoon calendar at 1:30pm. This does NOT mean you will be seen at 8:30 am, or 1:30pm. Rather, you will be one of many cases on the Judge’s calendar that day. Sometimes the Judge has 5 matters. Sometimes, he has 40.
Who will be in the Courtroom?
The Judge. The Bailiff. The court reporter. Your lawyer. The other side. The other side’s lawyer. Other litigants. Other lawyers. (unless it’s a closed case).
What should I call the Judge?
Your Honor. And speak only when you are spoken to.
What should I say?
Refrain from uttering garbage. Every motion has a request for something to happen. Stick to that request. If it’s a request for child support, stick to that. Don’t burden the Judge with details on your husband’s prostitute’s gigantic nose ring.
Here is the standard format for why you are here.
-State your facts.
-Tell Judge what you are asking for.
– Find authority to support your request. (The California Family Code is a great resource. So is Google, if you are Googling the Family Code.)
Conclude with your request. Remember: You are one of many matters on the Judge’s calendar. Brevity is next to Godliness. Stick to the issues, and make your arguments.
The other side is lying. Should I say something?
Yes. But wait your turn. Everyone, and especially Judges, hate interrupters. And Court Reporters cannot stand them because they can’t take down words with people talking over each other! Respect the Judge and Court Reporter.
Don’t Badmouth Your Ex in Court
Refrain from badmouthing your ex, and calling him/her names. “Deadbeat”, “Loser”, “Narcisisst”, “Bipolar” are all labels which do little to nothing to help you advance your arguments.
Stick to the facts.
Remember, Mother Theresa does not end up with Hitler in Family Court.
What should I bring to Court?
If you are introducing evidence, put it in your papers, and bring it all, organized. Make copies for the other side, as well as the Judge. A standard rule: Make 3 copies of everything. Hole punch the original to be filed with the Court.
How should I state my requests?
BE SPECIFIC. Rather than say, “I want full custody”, state, “Your Honor, I am requesting the status quo parenting plan. I have physical custody of the children on weekdays, and my husband usually sees them on weekends”. Rather than say, “I want guideline child support”, include a copy of a Dissomaster, or any other report, which states the factors upon which the calculation is made. Remember, always 3 copies!
Who is my Judge?
A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the Judge. RESEARCH your Judge before you get to Court. And I don’t mean online reviews. You can find out how long this Judge has been a Judge – what experience they have in Family Law, their pet peeves, etc. Request information from your attorney regarding your particular Judge.
Read the Local Rules.
Every County is different. The Los Angeles Local Rules are posted here.
Proof of Service!!!
This is so very important. Our entire legal system is predicated on Due Process. Make sure the other side has been served with documents that have been filed. The Court absolutely mandates a Proof of Service on all documents. Make sure you have filed this.
Thank the Judge.
At the end, say, “Thank you for your time, Your Honor”. No matter what. EVEN if he/she ruled against you!
Going to Court is gambling.
NO LAWYER can guarantee you the outcome. You are letting the JUDGE decide your fate. You are in absolute control of your own destiny until you go to Court. Whatever ruling the Judge issues, you must accept it (at least, for that day). You may have remedies for what you consider is a bad ruling. But, it is out of your control now. And there you have it: What to Expect When You Have to Go to Court!
Attached is a handy booklet from Judge Dianna Gould-Saltsman: Representing Yourself Judges Perspective.