September, 2001

One of the most common questions I am asked in my family law practice is, “Will I have to go to court?” or “Will I have to speak to the Judge?”. Clients are very anxious about appearing before the court and are afraid of the Judge and the courtroom in general.

Who can blame them? After all, when you think of what a Judge is like, one can’t help but think about Judge Judy and the verbal abuse she dishes out to people on a regular basis. Thoughts are conjured up of being in front of the Judge, having to endure a tongue lashing in a room full of strangers. It’s enough to make even the most eloquent speaker begin stuttering, paralyzed with fear.

Or, if fear of the Judge isn’t the factor, it is worry over the possibility of saying the wrong thing. Or, not knowing how to answer a question.

I will never forget the first time I appeared in court as an attorney. I was given a file by my boss and told to appear in court the next day. When I appeared, there were five attorneys on the other side of the case, ready to do battle against me. It created a very ominous feeling for me. I felt my hands sweating and my heart pounding. It was terrible. Somehow, I was able to gain my composure. Even so, the entire time I felt like I was in a fog. “Thank goodness the client wasn’t there to see me make a fool of myself,” was all that I could think. In the end I prevailed agaisnt those five snakes, I mean lawyers, but what a battle. I was totally exhausted. So, I definitely can empathize with someone who is not a lawyer, has to fight for themselves, and is afraid to go to court.

The good news is that in a dissolution ( divorce ) case, most people never see a court room. If the parties are able to reach an agreement on all issues, they never need to go to court. Still, even if you do have to go to court to litigate an issue, a party who is represented by an attroney doesn’t need to say anything to the Judge directly. That is what the attorney is there to do. Attorneys will tell their clients to speak to them ( the attorney ) and then the attorney will speak to the court. If the attorney forgets to instruct the client in that regard, the Judge may do so if the party starts to speak out.

The only time a represented party needs to speak in court is during trial when testimony is taken. Then, like any other witness, they will need to take the stand and testify. The good news on that is only a very small percentage of the family law cases ever go to trial.

So, in answer to the question, “Will I have to speak to the Judge?” odds are, the answer is “No!”.