“I just want to tell my story to the judge.”
By: Alan Freed
Law and Order, LA Law, Boston Legal, Judge Judy–everybody loves a good TV trial. In the space of an hour or so, smart, dedicated, hard-working lawyers roll up their sleeves, gather evidence, and walk into courtrooms where skeptical and cantankerous judges preside over hearings filled with snarky comments, snappy objections, and smoking guns. Nothing makes for better entertainment.
It’s not surprising, then, when frustrated and angry people going through a divorce tell their lawyers, “Let me just tell my story to the judge.” So many of our clients come to us with a deeply held belief that they have been wronged, and that the judge, after hearing their heart-rending story, will grant them what they feel is “justice” or what they think is “fair.”
The reality, unfortunately, is that the real justice system rarely operates the way we would like it to and is far from the system portrayed on TV.
Despite what TV tells us, judges don’t spend all of their time sitting in judgment. They are also administrators, managing long dockets of cases. Unlike on the small screen, trials are not over inside an hour. Some of them can take days, or even longer. If each case on a judge’s docket had to be tried, we would need to hire countless more judges, build countless new courtrooms, and endure even longer waits for cases to be resolved. Judges are happy to see people work their issues out so that the cases that cannot be settled can have access to the scarce courtroom resources.
Beyond the logistical problems, judges in the family court have likely heard it all before. As compelling as your story may be, any judge can tell you of a more heartbreaking or disturbing situation that has been laid out in their courtroom. And, don’t forget, your spouse probably believes their story is worse than yours. In trial, each of you will have an opportunity to tug at the judge’s heartstrings to try and gain the court’s sympathy, a more uphill battle than you might believe.
Finally, there’s the cost. If you are arguing over $10,000, it makes no sense to spend $25,000 on a trial to prove you are right. Preparing for trial is not just a matter of reviewing a few documents and interviewing a handful of witnesses. Trial preparation is painstaking, exacting, and remarkably time-consuming. You want your lawyer to be prepared for every eventuality, and that means spending many hours going over the facts and the law at a cost of thousands of dollars before ever setting foot in the courtroom for the trial.
So, when your lawyer suggests a settlement may be in your family’s best interests, listen carefully. Trials should be seen as your last resort, not your first. Coming up with a carefully crafted settlement may bring you the best possible outcome.
The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal can help you decide whether a trial is the right way to go.