Know Your Judge: Virginia Custody Cases
Judges – like all of us normal, regular people – are different. They bring to their job different opinions, and different interpretations of the law. They are subject to different moods, based on what is happening in their own personal lives.
This probably isn’t shocking information. But it is pretty scary, to think that you could wait months and months to meet with someone who could be making decisions about you and your family on a day where he or she is feeling grumpy.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the system isn’t perfect. Judges aren’t perfect. Attorneys aren’t perfect. And I’m going to take a little guess and say that, probably, you’re not perfect, either.
Do you have an upcoming custody case in this perfectly imperfect system? Cool. You’re not alone. But you’re obviously smart, because you’re here, and you’re doing what you can to prepare for what happens next. That’s all you can do, at the end of the day, right? Prepare! Of course right.
Now, there are a lot of things you can do to prepare for your upcoming custody case. You can request a free copy of one of our books, attend a seminar (we have both a divorce and a custody seminar), and even talk to an attorney about representing you. It’s not like there’s one right way to do things – but there definitely are some wrong ways, and you want to take the steps to get as informed as possible, so that you don’t make any missteps.
Probably a good idea is also to get to know your judge! They’re different, and, the more you know about YOUR judge, the better it’ll be for your decision making. Who your judge is will (if you’re smart about it!) have a lot to do with what evidence you present, how you present it, and plenty of other choices you make, not just about what you’ll do or say in the courtroom, but how you should behave in your personal life in the days, weeks, and months leading up to your case.
Wait, what? How I behave in my personal life can affect my custody case?
Yes, OF COURSE!
You have to remember, all sorts of stuff can be admissible in a custody case. We’re looking at best interests of the child here, so all sorts of things can relate back to what might be in a child’s best interests.
If you’re abusing drugs or alcohol, that’s relevant. If you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition (or mental health condition) that would adversely affect your ability to parent and you’re NOT seeking treatment, that’s relevant. If you scream profanities at your child’s father in front of the children, that’s relevant. If you’re not allowing him to see the children, that’s relevant. I could go on and on, but just wanted to touch on sort of the tip of the iceberg where custody cases are concerned.
If you know your judge, especially his or her pet peeves, you can better prepare for court. There are things, of course, that most judges agree on: (1) keeping siblings together, (2) that child support and visitation do NOT go hand in hand (that is, just because he’s not paying his child support does not give you free rein to deny visitation), (3) parental alienation or speaking disparagingly about the other parent in front of the children is bad, (4) actively supporting the child’s relationship with his other parent is good, etc.
There are other points that may be more idiosyncratically connected with different judges, though.
How do I get to know the judge in my custody case?
Probably the best way to get to know the judge in your custody case is to talk to a local attorney about it. Whether or not you decide to hire an attorney, one can offer you a fairly well rounded perspective – usually – on the judges in the different courts in our area.
We’re getting lots of new judges in the next couple months, though, so, in some cases, it’ll just take some time to get to know them that well. In other cases, there can be substitute judges that handle cases on certain days – it’s impossible to know ahead of time.
If your case is in circuit court
In circuit court, you can do some espionage of your own, and learn about your judge. The court proceedings are open to the public, and you can just go watch the judge in action. That can give you a lot of insight. The more you watch, the more you can pick up on the judge’s pet peeves and various idiosyncracies.
If your case is in juvenile court
In juvenile court… it’s a little bit harder! You can’t just go in and watch cases relating to juveniles. Probably the best way to get to know your judge is to talk to an attorney about it. I’m sorry!
What about published court opinions? Can I review those to get an idea of my judge’s viewpoint?
Juvenile and circuit court opinions aren’t published, so you can’t read up on the judge’s prior decisions. That doesn’t start happening until the appeals court. But that’s a really good, clever, perceptive question, and I’m super impressed.
There really aren’t a lot of shortcuts, and there’s not a lot of different things you can do to figure out what your judge is actually like. You’ll have to either do the work yourself, if you can, and research your judge online, attend court in his courtroom, or talk to a local attorney about it. Probably your best bet is to talk to someone who has personally appeared in your judge’s courtroom, and can give you feedback on different types of cases.
I like that you’re giving so much thought to your case. You’re asking really perceptive questions. It’s always a good idea to think about how your case might be perceived, and to take the time ahead of the court hearing to make any changes necessary that will make you and your case appear in the most positive light.
It’s a good idea, too, to consider how you dress and act in the courtroom as well as many inherent prejudices (colored hair, piercings, etc) that may rear their ugly heads. There are a lot of tangible and intangible things that go into a judge’s decision, and the best thing you can do is to consider them and make a decision accordingly.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys (or to ask about the judge that has been assigned to your case), give our office a call at 757-425-5200.