Getting Ready For Your Appearance In Family Court
Most of our clients have never appeared in Family Court without an attorney (some have never appeared in Family Court at all) and the thought of going at it alone can be daunting and intimidating. We assure you, it doesn’t need to be.
We say this all the time; nothing impresses a judge (and frustrates an opposing attorney) more than a well-informed and thoroughly prepared pro se litigant. Your confidence will get noticed.
It is important for us to remind you upfront that we are not attorneys, nor do we pretend to be. The following is not legal advice. This is nothing more than practical advice from pro se litigants that have been involved in high conflict custodial litigation for over a decade.
Below are the types of notes we provide to clients prior to their “motion” hearings or “status check” hearings in Family Court. Preparing for “evidentiary” hearings (non-jury trials), “show cause” hearings (contempt hearings), and “protective order” hearings are topics we will cover in separate blog postings.
KNOW WHERE TO GO
Sometimes litigants forget that Family Court hearings aren’t always held at the main Family Court Campus located at 601 North Pecos Road. Three judges are based out of the Regional Justice Center (located at 200 Lewis Avenue) in downtown Las Vegas. Those Judges/Departments are:
Dept. H – Judge Arthur Ritchie – Courtroom 3G – RJC
Dept. M – Judge William Potter – Courtroom 10B – RJC
Dept. S – Judge Vincent Ochoa – Courtroom 10A – RJC
All other Clark County Family Court Judges are based out of the North Pecos Campus, as follows:
Dept. A – Judge William Voy – Courtroom 18 – First Floor
Dept. B – Judge Linda Marquis – Courtroom 7 – Second Floor
Dept. C – Judge Rebecca Burton – Courtroom 8 – Second Floor
Dept. D – Judge Robert Teuton – Courtroom 11 – Second Floor
Dept. E – Judge Charles Hoskin – Courtroom 2 – Second Floor
Dept. F – Judge Denise Genitle – Courtroom 3 – Second Floor
Dept. G – Judge Cynthia Dianne Steel – Courtroom 9 – Second Floor
Dept. I – Judge Cheryl Moss – Courtroom 13 – Second Floor
Dept. J – Judge Rena Hughes – Courtroom 4 – Second Floor
Dept. K – Judge Cynthia Giuliani – Courtroom 12 – Second Floor
Dept. L – Judge David Gibson Jr. – Courtroom 6 – Second Floor
Dept. N – Judge Matthew Harter – Courtroom 24 – First Floor
Dept. O – Judge Frank Sulilvan – Courtroom 21 – First Floor
Dept. P – Judge Sandra Pomrenze – Courtroom 10 – Second Floor
Dept. Q – Judge Bryce Duckworth – Courtroom 1 – Second Floor
Dept. R – Judge William Henderson – Courtroom 12 – Second Floor
Dept. T – Judge Lisa Brown – Courtroom 5 – Second Floor
DO SOME “HOMEWORK” ON YOUR JUDGE
Each judge has their own “style” when it comes to running their courtroom and their own set of “quirks” when it comes to addressing specific issues. Knowing some of this information before you appear in court can be extremely advantageous.
As an example, Judge Duckworth and Judge Hoskin are probably two of the most “even-keeled” judges you’ll find on the Bench; Judge Pomrenze is a self-proclaimed “anecdotal” judge and gives litigants important perspective as to how litigation directly impacts their children; Judge Harter often makes decisions in Chambers by Minute Order prior to scheduled hearings; Judge Steel is the only judge that won’t allow parties to file exhibits to their pleadings.
Judge Hughes likely understands issues related to parental alienation (and pathogenic parenting) better than most based on her own research; Judge Marquis has a unique understanding of issues related to domestic violence; one of Judge Moss’ “hot buttons” has to do with firearms being kept in homes of families; Judge Gentile is diligent about reading all of the pleadings before her and is one of the kindest and most “common sense” judges on the Bench.
Those are just a few examples, but you get the idea.
We provide hearing videos to clients to give them an idea how their particular judge handles different types of cases. We also encourage clients to take a trip down to Family Court (or the RJC) a week or two before their hearing to familiarize themselves with the building and to sit in on a few hearings to watch their judge in “action.” This can lessen anxiety significantly when it comes time to appear for your own hearing.
KNOW WHAT TO WEAR AND WHAT TO BRING
Your attire should reflect the importance of why you are in court to begin with. Wear clothing you would wear to an important business function or job interview; keep it professional and business like.
It is always a good idea to bring extra copies of your documents and pleadings. Sometimes things get filed late and the judge and/or opposing attorney may not have received something yet. Your copies should be the official “file-stamped” documents that you filed with the Court and they should be organized and stapled.
This may sound silly, but bring bottled water with you to court. Should nerves and/or dry mouth kick-in, it’s always good to have relief within an arm’s reach. Usually, courtroom marshals make water available to litigants; but sometimes they forget, so it’s best to be prepared.
The Family Court Campus on Pecos has vending machines on the first floor (and a snack bar on the second floor) if you need to grab something prior to your hearing; while the RJC downtown has a Capriotti’s sandwich shop located on the first floor near the main security entrance.
PRIOR TO YOUR HEARING
It’s a good idea to arrive at court at least twenty minutes before the scheduled start time of your hearing. When you arrive, silence your phone and check in with the Judge’s courtroom marshal. It’s okay to quietly enter the courtroom and take a seat in the gallery when you arrive. The marshal will approach you and ask if you are present for a hearing. Don’t be surprised or frustrated if the Court is running late.
Before your hearing (and I can’t stress the importance of this point enough), remind yourself to speak clearly, loudly, and with respect throughout the entirety of your hearing. Doing so will exude confidence. It’s also important to remember:
. Only refer to the Judge as “Your Honor,” “The Court,” or “Judge” (never use the judge’s first or last name):
. “As the Court is aware…”
. “As Your Honor may have noticed in my Motion…”
. “Yes Judge; that is correct…”
. Only refer to your ex as “Mom/Dad” or “Plaintiff/Defendant” (do not use your ex’s first name; it’s more respectful and less confrontational);
. “My concern, Your Honor, is that Dad violated the Order…”
. “Unfortunately Judge, Mom continues to act in a way that…”
. Only refer to your ex’s attorney as “Counsel” or “Mr./Ms. Smith” (again, avoid using first names);
. If you need to address the courtroom clerk, say “Madam Clerk”
DURING YOUR HEARING
When your case is called, approach the litigant table to your RIGHT if you are the Plaintiff (approach the litigant table to your LEFT if you are the Defendant). Place your documents, notes, and water down in front of you and remain standing until the judge tells you to sit down. Unless the judge asks me to sit, I remain standing during the duration of my hearings. It shows respect.
The Judge will begin the hearing by reading your case number and announcing that the Court is now “on the record.” When asked for “your appearance,” simply state your first and last name and tell the judge that you are the Plaintiff (or Defendant) “appearing in proper person” or “representing yourself.”
CLOSED HEARINGS: Family Court matters are deeply personal. Most of our clients would prefer to have a “closed” or “private” hearing and aren’t aware that such a request can be made. If your case isn’t already sealed, you may request a closed/private hearing at any time. Simply tell the Judge that you are requesting a closed hearing pursuant to NRS 125.080 (and prior local rule EDCR 5.02) and that you would ask for the courtroom to be cleared.
SEALED CASES: While we are on the topic of privacy, many of our clients aren’t aware that they can file a request to “seal” their case file whenever they like. You have this right pursuant to NRS 125.110. Sealing a case means that only the litigants and their attorneys can access the case file. It also means that your case will not be accessible online and that your hearings will be closed to the public. The document you would want to file to make such a request is called an Ex Parte Application to Seal File.
Once housekeeping items have been taken care of, your Judge will likely want to know where things stand and if you and the opposing attorney/party had a chance to discuss the case and work anything out. Just answer truthfully.
MAKING YOUR “PITCH”
Your Judge will then be ready to “hear argument.” If your hearing was scheduled on a Motion that YOU filled, then you will go first. If the opposing attorney/party tries to present their position first, politely stop them; remind the Judge that it is your Motion, and take the lead. This is important because you want to have time for “rebuttal” and sometimes attorneys try to talk over pro se litigants. Don’t let them.
When presenting your argument, start by asking the Judge if they had the opportunity to review all of your pleadings. Most of the time, they will say yes; but sometimes things get filed late or the Court misses something by mistake. If that ends up being the case, politely ask if the Court would like to take a brief ten-minute recess to review your documents (and offer the Judge one of the file-stamped copies that you brought with you to court).
Next, it’s time to make your “pitch” and get to the “meat” of what you’re asking the Court to do. We advise clients to never read from a script of notes in court. It’s neither compelling nor persuasive, so just don’t do it. Instead, come to court with a list of “bullet points” that you will expand on in your own words.
Your bullet points shouldn’t “rehash” the pleadings that the Judge has already read. Instead, they should highlight the “key” points that you want to “stick” with the Judge (those things that you are most passionate and/or concerned about). Your bullet points should also bring attention to anything “new” that has happened between the time you filed the papers and that day's hearing.
Keep your initial “pitch” to less than five minutes. Practice your pitch ahead of time in front of a mirror. Get comfortable saying what needs to be said out loud before court. Laying out facts in a chronological timeline is good; making haphazard allegations is not. Passionate pitches are fine; rambling whiny pitches are not. In the end, don’t forget to tell the Judge exactly what it is that you want the Court to do and why.
Next, your ex (or his/her attorney) will present their argument. I promise that you will be tempted, but do not interrupt the other side while they are making their argument. Instead, write down more bullet points of things that you want/need to respond to. You will be given a chance to “rebut” when the other side is done.
After rebuttal, follow the cues and lead of your Judge. If the Judge needs more information about something, they will let you know. Pay very close attention to their body language and the things that seem to be “on their radar.” Address those things in more detail, if appropriate. If something is getting missed, don’t hesitate to bring it up.
AT THE CONCLUSION OF YOUR HEARING
When the Judge is done taking argument, they will likely make some Orders before concluding the hearing. That’s when you will want to sit down, take notes, remain quiet, and listen carefully to what is being said. If you don’t understand something (or need additional information), wait until the Judge is done issuing orders and then ask for any needed clarification.
The Judge will then adjourn the hearing and ask one side to prepare the Order from that day’s hearing. If the opposing attorney/party is asked to prepare the Order, be sure to ask for the opportunity to review and countersign it yourself before it gets submitted to the Court.
If any stipulations (or agreements) were made during the course of you hearing, request that the stipulations go in effect immediately pursuant to EDCR 7.50. This ensures that your stipulations will become a formal Order of the Court.
Lastly, before you leave, order a copy of that day’s hearing video. Most of our clients aren’t aware that you can order your hearings on a memory stick to keep. The hearing video is the “official court record” and can come in handy if disagreements arise later (or if you need clarification on something that happened during the hearing).
Hearing videos are also a great way to critique your “performance” in court and see how you “appeared” to the Judge. Videos cost five dollars and can be ordered from the Clerk’s office on the first floor of the Family Court campus on Pecos.
We hope that you find some of these tips helpful. Look for more blogs soon on the topic of preparing for evidentiary, contempt, and protective order hearings.
As always, if we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Mark DiCIero is the owner and founder of Pro Se PROS. You can contact Mark directly at 702.743.3338 or at email@example.com.