What Family Law Judges Want
Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.
1. Family Law Tip of the Week
When you head into court, treat it as though you are going to church, to temple or to somewhere sacred. Show respect for the courtroom and your judge. Wear appropriate clothing. Don’t eat or drink in the courtroom. Don’t bring children to court. Stand when the judge enters the courtroom. Only address the court if the court asks you a question. Address the judge as “your honor,” “sir,” or “ma’am.”
2. What Family Law Judges Want
The Honorable Christopher Whitten has been one of Maricopa County’s family law judges for almost 3 years. He has been on the bench for 8 years.
Hiring a Lawyer vs. Representing Yourself
In about half of the cases coming before Judge Whitten, neither party is represented by an attorney. In other words, both those parties are “pro per.” In the other half of Judge Whitten’s cases, most of those have lawyers on only one side of the case. This is probably very different than the vision people have about courts and family law.
When asked whether a person is better off with or without a lawyer, Judge Whitten says that in most situations, he feels as though lawyers almost always help. As with other professions, there are some lawyers out there who are “bad apples.” However, generally speaking, lawyers bring something to the table: skills and knowledge.
The law requires judges to hold people who are representing themselves to the same standards as lawyers. So, in a case where one side has a lawyer and the other side is self-represented, the case can be made much more difficult if the pro per is unfamiliar with laws, rules and procedures.
Things to Think About When Hiring an Attorney
In terms of selecting a lawyer, Judge Whitten doesn’t necessarily think one type is “best.” A lawyer’s style doesn’t always determine whether someone is “good” or “bad.” Not every case is best served by the same “type” of lawyer.
In selecting an attorney, Judge Whitten suggests looking at a person’s reputation in the community. Lawyers develop reputations among each other and judges. You can call the state bar. You can ask family and friends. Research!
Meet your prospective attorney. Don’t enter into this relationship lightly. Don’t enter into the relationship based on cost alone. You ultimately want a lawyer who will give you the highest quality representation.
You have to hire someone you trust. At some point, your attorney will have to tell you something you don’t like. You should be able to trust what that lawyer tells you.
Tips for Unrepresented Parties (Pro Pers)
For the people who aren’t represented by an attorney, in Maricopa County Superior Court, you can go to the self-service center to learn. Additionally, the courts (in Maricopa County) are developing a series of YouTube videos to help guide people through the system. (Keep in mind that the judge is going to hold you to all the legal rules as though you are an attorney!)
Read all of your judge’s minutes (minute entries). The minutes will give you very detailed information about your case. If you don’t follow the minutes, you could seriously disadvantage yourself and your case.
Even if you can’t afford a lawyer to do “everything” for you in your case, just pay a lawyer for an hour or two to consult with you and point you in the right direction. In Maricopa County, you can also hire attorneys for very limited reasons (limited scope representation).
In family law, Judge Whitten has seen an emotional charge that doesn’t seem to exist in other types of law (civil and criminal). What he doesn’t “get” is people who are unable to control their emotions such that they prove the other side’s point. (Believe it or not, this often happens in front of family law judges!) The fact is, it is very difficult to represent yourself and remain objective. (Keep this in mind in deciding whether or not to hire an attorney.)
Remember that your inability to control yourself could really torpedo your words. Be mindful of your emotional hot buttons. If you are highly charged about your case, do what you can to get an attorney.
Judge Whitten suggests going down to court and watching someone else’s case to help you learn what to do (and what not to do) in front of family law judges. The courtrooms are the people’s courtrooms. They are all open. (There are very rare exceptions where courtrooms are closed.)
Judge your judge! Research him or her. (Be wary of certain types of websites that aren’t reliable, however.)
If your case is in Maricopa County, click here for more information on your specific judge.
Reasonableness in the Courtroom
On the topic of reasonableness, Judge Whitten feels that people often view themselves as reasonable and the other side as unreasonable. In many cases, judges don’t have the resources (time) to dig out “real” unreasonableness. People DO get themselves in trouble, however, when they don’t follow the court’s orders (and they could have).
Work It Out!
To maximize your level of investment in and commitment to your case, work with your ex to agree and consent to a result that is fair and/or best for your children. Your settlement may not be perfect, but there is a value to an agreement that is more likely to last long-term. Check out all forms of alternative dispute resolution, too!
3. Thoughts From the Life Coach
In today’s thoughts, James talks about fear. Don’t let fear mask the “real” you in your interactions with others.