What Role Does the Family Court Judge Play in Your Divorce Case?

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The Family Court Judge is just like you and I. He is a normal person with a job to do. The Family Court Judge has a job that will ultimately give him power over life decisions for you and your spouse. So, if you want to retain power over how your divorce settlement turns out you should put thought into going through the Collaborative Divorce process or fully engaging in mediation and be willing to negotiate, which means being willing to give and take.

The Family Court Judge’s job is to resolve issues that were not resolved during mediation or negotiations of the division of marital property, spousal support, visitation and other like issues. Below is an example of how a judge might resolve an issue before his/her court:

Jeff and Susan were the parents of two young boys ages 4 and 7 years old. Susan had an affair and wanted a divorce so she could start a new life with the other man. Jeff wanted to be amicable for the sake of his children. He wanted his children to be able to stay in the marital home so they would not experience change that would cause them emotional distress after the divorce.

Jeff and Susan came to an agreement that allowed her to stay in the marital home until the children reached 18 years of age. In the agreement, Jeff volunteered to pay the mortgage with the understanding that when the children reached the age of majority that the home would be sold. He and Susan would then split the interest in the home 50/50. Jeff considered this a win/win situation. He felt it was what was best for his children and that making the mortgage payments was a good investment for him that he would get a return on in the future.

To protect his investment and his children from undue influence from the other man Jeff ask that there be a no cohabitation clause included in the final decree. The clause stated that as long as he paid the mortgage payments on the home that Susan would not have the other man stay overnight while the children were in the home. It also stated that if Susan moved the other man in or remarried that she would either buy out Jeff’s interest in the home or the home would be sold and the equity split between the two of them.

Within a couple of months, Susan had the other man spending the night in the home while the children were there. Not only was he spending the night he was also disciplining the children by yelling, calling them names, grabbing their arms and spanking them so hard he left bruises.

Jeff requested that his divorce attorney file a contempt of court motion against Susan. Before he went to court Jeff documented the bruises on his children by taking photos and taking them to the doctor. He also obtained statements from neighbors who witnessed the other man yell at and physically discipline the children. On top of that, he took photos of the other man's car at the home late at night and early in the morning.

When Jeff went to court he was able to prove that not only was Susan in contempt by allowing the other man to spend nights in the home with the children where he was also able to prove that his children were being abused. He came to court with photos, medical records and subpoenaed witnesses to prove his case. The judge immediately found Susan in contempt of court. He ordered her to either buy out Jeff’s interest in the home or put the home on the market and sell it.

He also gave Jeff temporary custody of the children until an investigation was done by the state’s Child Services Department. Not only did Jeff succeed in holding Susan in contempt he got his children safely away from any further influence of the other man.

He was able to do this because he went before the judge prepared, acting in a reasonable manner and was calm in his presentation of his case. John had legal representation but he also knew that getting the proof he needed to win in court meant work on his part also. He impressed the judge by taking a pro-active role in the case.

What Can You Do to Impress a Family Court Judge?

  • Come to court prepared. Don’t make the mistake that your attorney will be prepared. Make sure you have a copy of every document, witness list and any other thing pertaining to your case that your attorney has.
  • Don’t make a scene in court that will reflect negatively on you. Jeff had reason to be angry, he had reason to want to do harm to the man who had harmed his children. He knew that keeping a level head and letting the judge deal with it was the best action to take. If you have a similar situation or you are feeling angry and frustrated over an issue let the judge be the last to know how you are feeling.
  • Follow accepted courtroom protocol. This means following your attorney’s advice, speaking when spoken to and only address the judge if he asks you a direct question. If you think your attorney has made a mistake or failed to address a certain issue whisper to him/her and ask for a few minutes of time to explain something. Either that or write a note about your concerns.
  • Be honest to a fault. There may be things going on you don’t want the judge to know about but it is better to look like a person who has made poor choices than a liar. If something fishy is going on, on your end, more than likely the other side has discovered it and will bring it up. Judges don’t look kindly upon people who try to lie to them.

If you go to court as a pro se litigant, I encourage you to learn your state’s divorce laws and get as much guidance as possible beforehand regarding your state’s rules for civil procedure.