Saying “No” to a family law judge seems simple enough: “No your honor.” But in reality, it’s rarely easy.
Even sophisticated executives, poised professionals, and junior lawyers can be unnerved when called upon to dissent in a courtroom before a presiding Judge with dozens of onlookers minding their business and disgruntled spouses sitting and tutting just a few feet away.
I remember feeling butterflies in my stomach when the family judge asked if I, a twenty-two year old first-year law student had prepared the script laypeople were supposed to read when asking the court to grant an uncontested divorce. I hadn’t. The judge seemed displeased, and I was inwardly kicking myself while softly uttering, “No your honor.”
Your day in court.
If you’re legally separating, getting a divorce or dissolving a domestic partnership, there’s a strong probability one day, you’ll come face-to-face with a black-robed figure on high who directs you to answer a yes-no question. If you go to a Case Status Conference in California you’ll almost certainly be asked questions like, “Did you file a Proof of Service of Summons?” “Is your Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure complete?” “Do you live in this county?”
When you respond, “Yes, no, yes,” you want to speak clearly and confidently. You want your composure and delivery to inform the judge about your character: honest, present, proactive, your needs: spousal support, or your well-informed decisions: marital settlement agreement.
No going back.
You don’t want to get tongue-tied or weak-kneed and be incapable of saying “NO!” when it’s what you really mean –this can get you in hot water. Case in point: If a California judge asks during a hearing, “Do you accept your spouse’s settlement offer?” and you say “Yes,” when inwardly you’re screaming “NO!” your assent and the court’s order can seal a legally enforceable deal you regret. This is never good.
Or, if you hate to be difficult and say “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” when the answers are “No.” “No.” “No.” and your misstatements come to light, your credibility will be shot. Family law judges often defer to the most credible spouse.
So, even if you’re accustomed to confidently speaking-up at home or work, if you’re headed to court for a conference, hearing or trial, practice saying aloud: “No your Honor…”
If you are scared by the thought of speaking to a judge or you know it may be impossible to stand-up for yourself in court, hire a good local trial lawyer to be by your side and serve as a mouthpiece if the cat gets your tongue.
Also, do what you can to reduce your odds of having to say N-O to a judge. Complete essential steps and paperwork on time and in conformity with rules and laws. And if at all possible and reasonable, negotiate or mediate settlements, stay out of court, and use the carefully drafted terms of your Stipulated Judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement to do the talking for you.