Your California family law hearing
Be On Time – Be aware that some days getting through security may take some time. Plan on being at the courthouse no less than 30 minutes prior to your hearing time, so that you can be at the actual courtroom at least 15 minutes early. Hopefully your attorney has met with you prior to your hearing date. If not, you may be asked to show up even earlier (though last-minute preparation is usually not recommended).
Be Prepared – Review all of your legal papers (“moving papers,” “responses,” and/or “declarations”) a few days prior to the hearing to refresh your memory. Your attorney should provide these to you in a timely manner so that you can review them well before the appearance. Rarely should you be surprised by any last-minute paperwork just prior to a hearing. Bring any requested documents. Ask your attorney for a list if you find it helpful.
Be Dressed Appropriately – Court is serious business. The Judges (or Commissioners) do see how you are dressed and groomed, and it makes an impression (good, bad, or otherwise!). At the minimum, wear “business casual” (for men slacks and a collared shirt; and for women a skirt or slacks, and blouse or dress). If you are having anyone come with you inform them to dress similarly. Please do not wear shorts, sleeveless tops, or anything “revealing.” Be conservative.
Be Prepared to Wait – Court calendars are very busy, and your case may be number 20 (or 30!) on the list of cases for the Court to hear that day. You may need to wait for your matter to be heard until late morning, or it may be pushed back into the afternoon. It is not unexpected for the Court to be so busy that your hearing may require a “continuance” to another date. In many cases there is little your attorney can do to avoid this.
Be Respectful – Going to Court can be a difficult and emotional situation. Try to remain calm and level-headed. You may hear or see things that upset you, including things the opposing party or their attorney may say. Understand that your reaction may make a situation worse. Especially while in front of the Judge or Commissioner, never interrupt another person speaking, always address everyone with respect and their proper names, and never react with eye-rolling, exasperation, or contempt to things others are saying. Be aware that even when you are whispering to your attorney the Judge or clerks may hear you and that may have an impact on you or your credibility later. Always show respect for the Judge or Commissioner. You certainly may ask questions of your attorney if you do not understand anything. Under no circumstances should you argue with the Judge or Commissioner.
Be Prepared to Compromise – Very often parties reach agreements outside the Courtroom. Come with an idea of what you can live with. It may not be exactly what you want, but that is a compromise. Any agreement you work out is more personal to you than what a Judge may order. This gives you the power to decide what to compromise on, and what not to compromise. This is almost always more preferable than having a third-party (the Court) impose their own decision on you. There is no “perfect” case and little is predictable. The Court could rule against you, just as easily as for you. Rarely do both people get everything they want, regardless of how good their attorneys may be. Keep control and power by being prepared to compromise.
Be in Contact with Your Attorney – Your attorney will generally want to meet you in their office to a week or so prior to the hearing if it is a complicated matter. In some cases you may just need to talk to your attorney on the phone. Either way, have a list of questions for the attorney before you meet. This will make more efficient use of time, and also save you money. If you haven’t heard from your attorney, call them. If you have not already done so, give your attorney a “wish list” of what you would like to accomplish at the hearing. For example, if you are most concerned about your children’s schedule, write it out for the attorney.
Be Smart and Know your priorities – If children are involved, make their interests first. This can be much harder to do during the turmoil of a divorce than it may sound. Family, friends, and clergy can oftentimes be helpful in this arena. Make your priorities known, and be sure you and your attorney have discussed and agreed upon these priorities. Your attorney may have some very good insight from their legal experience that will help you prioritize what is realistic, and what is not.
Be Selective – Are you bringing a support person? Good idea! A divorce is one of the most difficult experiences of many people’s lives. But if you and your spouse/partner have just split up and you have a new significant other in your life, don’t bring them (bad idea!). It will only inflame the other person’s emotions and detract from any possibility to successfully negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution to your case. Even if compromise is out-the-window and your case will be litigated before the Court, it’s still bad form. Bring someone more neutral to support you.
Be Informed – Sometimes it can be complicated and difficult to follow what happens in the courtroom because of all of the legal language involved. Your attorney should take a few moments after the hearing to be sure you are up-to-speed. Don’t be shy about asking any questions you may have before leaving, or follow up with your attorney later as questions about the hearing come to mind. Your attorney is not only your legal advocate, but is also there to explain the legal process and what certain court decisions mean to you and your case.
Kelly R. M. Irwin, Esq.
Mark A. Irwin, Esq.
Stacy Boyer, J.D.