Your “Day In Court” – It’s Not What You Think

TV has ruined us. When you think of feeling wronged, you may imagine yourself in scenes sort of like those you've seen on shows – sitting on the witnessstand, with a wise and stately judge to one side, a well-dressed and articulate lawyer in front of you, and your almost-ex's lawyer disheveled and disorganized at the other counsel table. You imagine your lawyer asking a pointed question and you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – perhaps dabbing a tissue to your eye from time to time. After hearing the evidence on both sides, the judge looks over his horn-rimmed glasses down onto your now-ex, shaking his head side to side and emitting a barely perceptible “tsk, tsk.” For the next 10 minutes he reprimands your ex for being the scum of the earth and not treating you the way s/he should have. Then, after a long period of silence, he turns to you with a wink announces that you are free to go, emphasizing the word “free” just a little more than normal.

Sorry to break it to you but it's not like that, IRL. Not at all.

First of all, judges have all kinds of different demeanors, approaches, and personalities. Some of them are pleasant while others are downright frightening. A rare few are crooked or incompetent, but the vast, vast majority are not. Most judges, however, have pretty much seen it all. Whatever you may think is the juiciest, most horrific, or most deplorable conduct in the history of the universe, the judge in your case has probably seen the exact same thing 10 times. Just this morning. Don't expect judges to be shocked by whatever your situation is.

The other thing about judges is that their whole job is to be objective. Impartial. That means not giving your ex any breaks but also not giving you any. Practically speaking that means that if the two of you are disagreeing – even if it is completely the other person's “fault” or the other person is being unreasonable and you're just trying to defend yourself – chances are the judge is going to get onto both of you about it.

Getting to court is incredibly slow – both in terms of actual real measurement of time, but also more importantly in terms of how long it takes relative to how long you want it to take. In the meantime, while you're waiting on your court date, you may be in limbo on many fronts in your life.

Many times judges do not actually decide things in court, but rather throw it back onto the litigants to work things out if possible. So, it is entirely possible that you could go through all the stubbornness of seeing it through all the way to court, wait all the time it takes, and get all prepared – only to be told to come back in a month or two if you haven't been able to settle by then.

The other thing is that judges often do not decide the way you want them to decide. Despite the best arguments, the best lawyers, or the nicest disposition of the judge, things do not always go your way. Often they do not even really end up going in either party's way! They go the judge's way … which is what happens when you turn over major decisions about your life to an individual that barely knows you.

Judges are not like schoolteachers. In grade school the teacher would constantly survey the class to see who was breaking the rules, and would intervene or punish the offending child. Judges do not actively come to your house to see how your marital relationship is working out. They only respond to a conflict or issue when you (or your spouse) bring it to their attention.

Being in court is not glamorous. You may have to wait a good long while, sitting on an uncomfy bench. There will probably be uniformed bailiffs around, making you feel all awkward. There are likely to be people of all walks of life there, and 99% of them are super stressed out.

This is not to say that the courts are useless – by any stretch. It's just that their purpose is not what we've been led to expect by snazzy TV shows and movies.

Instead of relying on a judge or “courts” or the judicial system to somehow come swoop into your life and save you from the angst and turmoil of your relational challenges, this is a time to act with confidence and resolve. It's a time to understand what it is that you want, to figure out what outcomes you can negotiate based on those, and what your options are for getting things set in stone. Chances are, that sounds daunting. You probably haven't had to make these kind of life-altering decisions for yourself too often. This is when working with our coaches, counselors and/or lawyers can help you to feel more confident in your path forward.

Courts are necessary to effectuate the change in a legal status (such as from married to unmarried). They can help solidify agreements, by reducing them to orders of the court. If those are broken or if a party tries to cause actual harm, the judicial system can step in to enforce orders that are in place.

Ideally court procedures should be like the ribbons all tied up into a bow on a gift for your mother, after you've done the hard work of figuring out what to buy, finding it, purchasing it, and wrapping it up. They finalize it. They make it all look how it's supposed to. But does that mean the court should be the one figuring out what gift your mother should get? Heavens no. What a disaster that would be! The judge doesn't know your mother or what she likes. Why should a judge be the one to make those important decisions?

Don't strive for your “day in court.” Instead, seek to strengthen your knowledge about what you want for yourself and your family, and how to go about translating that vision into reality.