Divorce Attorneys in McHenry Can Impact Your Case: Know the Attorney

Like divorce attorneys McHenry, there are good judges and bad judges.  Unlike your attorney , you do not get to pick the judge.  In most counties in Illinois there is one or more judges assigned to the “family” division.  If there is only one judge, you can be pretty sure who you will start with.  If there is more than one, then the judge is usually assigned based on a mechanism developed by the clerk to attempt to distribute the cases relatively equally among the judges.  In McHenry County, for example, divorce cases are usually assigned on a rotating basis, but one judge is assigned for all order of protection cases.

There are good judges and there are bad judges.  Judges, just like everyone else, have their own peculiar background that have developed their opinions and innate biases.  Fortunately, the vast majority of judges are good people, intelligent and reasonable jurists, who are looking to apply the law and reach the fair and equitable outcome.  Some, however, are lazy, poorly informed, or may have an ax to grind.  Knowing the difference, as well as certain judges’ predisposition to certain types of issues is your divorce lawyers job.

In my opinion, there are several factors that I look for in a good divorce judge:

1.  The judge needs to be patient and respectful.  The judge will be asked to settle or rule in hundreds of bitterly contested and stressful cases and needs to be able to maintain a calm, reasonable and respectful demeanor despite the pressures placed on them by the divorce litigants and the more antagonistic attorneys.

2.  The divorce judge has considerable discretion and needs to be working towards equitable resolutions.  Each judge will have a different opinion about what is equitable, but as long as the judge is truly attempting to achieve what he or she believes to be equitable, I view this as a positive (even if I happen to disagree).  However, a good judge will not bend or break the law to achieve equity, deferring to the legislature, constitution and precedent even if he or she disagrees.

3.  A good divorce judge needs to be relatively intelligent and either know the law or be willing to learn the law.  Most judges are highly educated and certainly intelligent.  However, staying current with the law requires a significant amount of effort.  Being willing to learn the law, especially from the divorce lawyers and litigants appearing before them, requires a great degree of humility, especially from the person who is viewed as the authority in the room.  Transitioning from the wise and authoritative figure to one seeking knowledge can be difficult.

4.  A good divorce judge needs to keep an open mind.  Over the course of the case, the judge will hear things, perhaps things he or she should not hear, many times.  Many statements before trial are summary and without evidence.  Unfortunately, some judges develop their opinions in advance of the trial and forget that they are supposed to consider the case solely on the evidence and not the innuendo or attempts of lawyers before the trial to paint the other side black.  Keeping an open mind even after hearing statements for 12-18 months is difficult and is certainly a marker of an excellent judge.

5.  Ultimately, the judge needs to be firm.  The judge is the ultimate authority.  He or she needs to be firm and clear in his or her decisions, while still being open to admitting actual errors or omissions.  Finding the right balance between firm and inflexible is an art few have mastered.

From the point of view of someone going through a divorce, child custody, child support, or other family law case in Illinois, you will have little ability to judge the judge.  That is your divorce attorney’s job.  Selecting an attorney that practices in the county and frequently practices before the family division is an excellent way to increase the chances your attorney will be familiar with the judges proclivities.  If your attorney is from a different county, hopefully he or she will be able to contact colleagues in your county to get a feeling for the judge.

So what do you do if you get a bad judge?  Unfortunately there is not much you can do.  In Illinois, you have the right to one change of judge without cause.  However, you must make this choice before any substantive decision is made by the judge and before the judge has “tipped their hat” regarding their impressions of your case.  Changing judges for cause is difficult and requires a showing of bias against you from an extra-judicial source.  A feeling that the judge doesn’t like you, especially if he or she doesn’t like you because of what is or was occurring in your divorce case, will not be sufficient to change judges.

Having practiced divorce law and been a divorce lawyer in McHenry County for 12 years, I can confidently say that all the judges we currently have are good judges.  However, which judge will be the best for you will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.  If you are in McHenry County and need a divorce lawyer, please feel free to contact me.