Your Day in Court: What to Expect

Going to court can be extremely stressful. What heightens that stress is not even knowing what to expect. Thus, here’s a quick run-down of how to prepare for your day in court, and some general rules to keep in mind when you’re there.

Prior to the hearing:

Let’s start with the basics. In King County, there are two courthouses: Seattle and Kent. First things first, 2-3 days before your hearing, make sure you confirm it. If you set a hearing for a Friday, then by Tuesday at noon you need to confirm your hearing either online , or if you’d prefer to call or go in person, then you can do it anytime after 2 p.m. on Tuesday up until noon on Wednesday. If you don’t confirm your hearing, it will be stricken.

The day of the hearing:

The first thing you’ll have to do when you enter the courthouse is go through security. You never know how long this line is going to be, so make sure you always give yourself an extra 15-20 minutes to make sure you make it through.

If you have a hearing on the Family Law Motions Calendar, this means you will be in front of a commissioner. Commissioners are well-reputed family law lawyers who have been asked to sit on the bench before the family law motions calendar. They are different than a judge because judges have been elected, whereas commissioners are appointed. Basically, a commissioner is somewhere above a lawyer, but below a judge. Since they are not full judges, a commissioner’s ruling can always be revised up to a judge if there has been a clear error of law or if the commissioner failed to consider relevant evidence when making his/her decision.

In Kent, the family law courtrooms are right on the first floor of the Maleng Justice Center, and to your left after going through security. In Seattle, the family law courtrooms are on the second floor, west side (W-291). When you get to the courthouse, make it through security, then you (or you and your attorney) will go and check-in. Opposite the check-in window there will be a list of all the hearings set for that day. Find your name and there will be a number associated with it. Tell the coordinator at the check-in desk who you are, and what number hearing is yours. Then…. you wait.

Court begins at 9 a.m., and the clerk in the courtroom will call out each matter one at a time. Wait until your name is called, and then stand up at the podiums in front of the commissioner. Introduce yourself, and the other party will introduce him/herself. If you have an attorney, let your attorney do the talking – that’s why you’ve hired them!

Each side has five minutes to talk. If you are the moving party (the one who requested the hearing) you will go first, and you can reserve a portion of your five minutes for rebuttal. After you speak, then the other side will speak for five minutes. After they are done, that’s when you briefly have a chance to respond to everything they’ve said.

The commissioner may ask questions during the arguments, or may wait until the end (or may do both). Again, if you have an attorney, let the attorney answer the commissioner’s questions unless the commissioner speaks directly to you. Once the commissioner has asked all he/she wants to, then there will be a ruling.

General courtroom rules:

  • Turn off your cell phone

  • Always address the judge or commissioner as “Your Honor” or “Commissioner _______”

  • Dress for court. You always want to put your best foot forward. It’s hard for a commissioner to take you seriously if you’re wearing your very best Hawaiian shirt

  • Stand when the commissioner enters the room until he/she gives you permission to be seated again

  • In Seattle, there is specific seating marked “petitioner” and “respondent.” If this is full, it is okay to sit in another area, but just be mindful not to engage your opponent in the courtroom

  • Never interrupt the commissioner. If you need to clarify something, wait until he/she has finished and then politely correct the statement

  • Get to know the court clerk. If you have questions, the clerks can usually help you with the answers

    • Be polite – to everyone. It can be a very stressful time, and the ruling may not always go as you wish it would. But just listen calmly, clarify anything if necessary, and thank the commissioner for his/her time. If it didn’t go your way, speak to your attorney about next steps