If you or your spouse are unable to agree on the terms of your divorce, everything will be decided by a judge in a final court trial. You have a right to request a jury trial. Most people are familiar with jury trials - where a jury of citizens from your community will decide the issues. But family law courts are overcrowded and overworked. While a jury trial is your right to request, asking for one will give the judge a negative impression of you before your case ever begins. In many states, including Florida, the “bench trial” is the trial of choice for a divorce case. A bench trial has no jury. The judge serves as the jury and also serves as the judge. The bench trial concentrates all the decision making power in one person, the judge. So in a typical divorce, the judge is the most important person in your life. So it is best to always “play to the judge" throughout your case.
The vast majority of judges are intelligent, compassionate, and concerned with doing the right thing. But judges are human and you must guide your behavior in, and out of court, by how you may appear to another person. From the start of your divorce to the final judgment (and possibly beyond) you must take “the high road. " This means you should act rational and with integrity. Don’t act up, or do anything the judge may use in a decision to punish you.
Always tell the truth and do what you promise to do. If your actions don't match your words, a judge will pick up on that. Be the person everyone admires throughout your divorce and the judge will pick up on that as well. A judge will frequently give the benefit of the doubt to a person that appears to be rational and honest. Further, a judge that gives you the benefit of the doubt will go out of his or her way to do the right thing.
However, you must be aware that as human beings, judges can act unpredictably. You may get a certain ruling because the judge “woke up on the wrong side of the bed" that day and you looked like the bad-guy in court. Again, you will always come out best if you maintain a squeaky clean image. During your hearing, avoid appearances of instability. Even if you don't speak during your trial, the judge is probably looking at and evaluating you.
The rules strictly prohibit any communication with the judge outside the presence of the other party. So do not attempt to speak to the judge in private. Letters to the judge are also prohibited. All communications with the judge must be conducted in the presence of the opposing party. And in practice, any communications must be done at a mutually arranged hearing in front of the judge. Finally, always be aware your actions and words are being measured and analyzed by a stranger. But in this case, the stranger is a judge and has power over your life and your divorce.
Howard Iken is the founder and managing attorney. He represents divorce clients in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando County, Florida. For more information, call his toll free number at 1-888-4My-Divorce (1-888-469-3486). Get a free education on divorce issues by visiting The Divorce Center of Tampa Bay You can view the common steps in a divorce by visiting Divorce Steps in Florida