Inside the Chambers

The clerk comes through a door at one side of the judge's bench and makes sure everyone is present. The clerk asks for copies of documents that are supposed to be in the court file but aren't, while your spouse's lawyer sputters a bit about the slowness of the mail and the fact he failed to bring copies with him. (Remember, you haven't seen these papers, either, because they aren't ready.)

Men should never wear caps or hats in the courtroom or judge's chambers. Women should not show cleavage or wear short skirts or wear a lot of noisy jewelry. Dress conservatively in professional clothing. Wear only clothes that show you respect the judge. Judges like to be respected.

You've told your lawyer you want to be present for whatever happens, so your lawyer asks if all four of you can see the judge. You all go into the judge's chambers and sit around the judge's desk as the lawyers explain the issues to the judge. Because you're present, you get to hear exactly what goes on and assess for yourself whether your lawyer is doing a good job. The judge may give you useful information such as, “Unless there is some information I haven't seen, I am disinclined to award spousal maintenance in this case” or “I can't find any documentation for this nonmarital claim. If there is no proof, there is no claim.” These kinds of observations can be very helpful in prompting you to modify your expectations of settlement.

Proper Behavior

Remember, you're a guest in a judge's office, so show respect. Judges like old-fashioned good manners, so be polite to your spouse. And don't bring your enormous briefcase full of divorce papers into chambers. It makes you look obsessed with the divorce. In addition, don't speak unless the judge asks you a direct question, and then answer only the question the judge asks. Your lawyer is there as your representative, and the judge will speak to her directly. If your lawyer needs more information, she might turn to you and ask that you answer the judge's question. Listen carefully and provide only the information requested. This is not the time for you to tell the judge that your spouse is a louse.

After meeting with the judge, you're sent to a nearby conference room to discuss settlement. Activist judges are likely to keep you talking until your lawyers report nothing more can be settled because of missing information. If both sides are missing information, the judge probably won't impose sanctions. If only one side has failed to bring required documents, the judge may impose fines, but he will make them conditional. (For example, if the case settles within the next thirty days, the fine will be forgiven.) Even if you lack actual numbers you may be able to settle certain issues. For example, if your spouse has a pension that was earned during the marriage, you may be willing to agree that it will be divided equally even though you don't know the exact value.

Too often one party is stuck on the behavior and actions of the other and unable to think of resolving issues for the family's benefit. You can be sure the judge will pick up on this, and you won't look good. Even if you have hostility toward your spouse, don't let it show in court. If you let it out, your case will suffer.

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