Can I fire my divorce judge?

It’s no secret: the judge in your divorce case may or may not be your friend. And, if he’s not, it’s kind of a big deal. After all, the judge is the person who, ultimately, will be responsible for making decisions about how everything in your divorce will be divided. If you find yourself in court before your final divorce hearing, your judge can make decisions about lots and lots of other things, too: from whether you’ll receive temporary child and spousal support (and how much), attorney’s fees, exclusive possession of the house, and even an order preventing your child’s father from having overnight guests of the opposite sex present while the children are there.

Depending on how contentious your case is, you could wind up in court a lot before your final divorce hearing. If you and your husband can’t come to an agreement on an issue, it will ultimately be left up to the judge. Sure, he’s bound by the law, but judges are people too: sometimes, it’s hard to overcome a bias against a person who you just don’t like. That shouldn’t factor into a judge’s decision, and some judges are probably better at taking their personal biases out of the question than others (you know, just like the rest of us). But what happens if you KNOW your judge hates you, and he is continually ruling in your husband’s favor? Can you fire your judge and get a new one?

Unfortunately, you probably can’t. Almost every different court has a different procedure for how judges are assigned to cases and, if you’re lucky, your court just assigns cases to whatever judge is available to hear a case on that particular day, so you may end up with a different judge at your final divorce trial than you had at your pendente lite hearing. In other courts, one judge stays with you from the beginning of your case until the end.

Regardless of how your court handles judge assignments, it probably won’t help your case any if you try to get the judge removed. In most cases, you can’t get him removed without serious, concrete evidence of impropriety (like, he’s taking bribes from your husband to rule in his favor). If you make a complaint, fail to get him removed, and then still have to appear in his courtroom, you’re probably still not doing yourself any favors.

Sometimes, my clients worry that their husbands know the judge, so there’s a conflict of interest and they want a different judge to hear the case. Depending on the extent of the relationship, it may be possible to get a judge to recuse himself from the case—but I wouldn’t count on it.

If you’re concerned about the judge who will hear your case, you should talk to your attorney about your options, but be prepared to hear that it may be more likely to cause harm to your case than good if you try to get the judge removed.

You should also do whatever you can to improve the judge’s opinion of you in the future. Try to think about what you may have done to cause the judge to dislike you. Did you sob uncontrollably? Say terrible things about your husband? Roll your eyes or suck your teeth when your husband spoke? Did you dress inappropriately? For more information about how to behave in court, click here.

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