Can You Request a Different Judge in Family Court?
Family court cases involving divorce, child custody, and other sensitive issues can have life-changing consequences. The judge assigned to your case holds tremendous power over the outcome. So what if you don’t feel comfortable with or confident in the judge overseeing your case? Can you request a different judge in family court?
What Is Judicial Assignment?
Before diving into whether you can request a new judge, it’s important to understand judicial assignment – the process by which judges are assigned to cases.
There are a few common models:
- Random assignment – Judges are selected at random to preside over cases as they are filed. This is the most common model.
- Master calendar – Cases are assigned to a master calendar judge when filed, who then assigns each case to a trial judge.
- Direct calendar – Each judge handles all aspects of the cases assigned to them.
- Specialization – Certain judges are assigned certain case types, like family law.
Judicial assignment aims to prevent “judge shopping” and encourage neutrality. But it can still feel unfair if you’re uncomfortable with your judge.
Do You Have Valid Reasons to Request a New Judge?
Before requesting a new judge, carefully consider your reasons. Judges can only be removed from cases for legitimate, legally valid reasons. Reasons like these are likely to be denied:
- You don’t like the judge’s demeanor or personality
- The judge has ruled against you
- You heard negative things about the judge
These reasons could justify a new judge:
- The judge has a clear conflict of interest – For example, a close relationship with the other party.
- There are concerns about the judge’s impartiality – For example, statements suggesting bias.
- There are documented problems with the judge’s competence or temperament.
If your reasons don’t raise substantiated concerns about the judge’s impartiality or qualifications, the request will probably be denied.
What Is the Formal Process for Substitution of Judge?
Each state has its own laws and procedures for substituting or disqualifying a judge from a case. There are some common requirements:
File a Motion
You’ll need to file a formal motion or affidavit asking for substitution or disqualification of the current judge. The motion must present valid, well-supported legal reasons for the request.
Most states require this request to be filed within a certain window after the case is assigned to the judge – often 10 days.
You’ll need to properly serve the motion to all other parties in the case. The judge must also be formally notified and given a chance to respond.
Attend a Hearing
A hearing may be scheduled for the parties to argue the motion before another judge. Evidence and testimony may be allowed.
The requirements vary significantly by state, so research the specific rules where your case is filed.
What Are Your Chances of Having a New Judge Assigned?
The odds are stacked against having a judge removed from a case. Numbers vary widely by jurisdiction, but research shows that only around 30% of motions for judicial disqualification are granted on average.
Courts are very hesitant to disrupt the assigned judge without overwhelmingly good cause out of respect for the judicial process. They don’t want to encourage “fishing expeditions” for a preferred judge.
You should temper your expectations accordingly and ensure your motion has rock-solid arguments supported by evidence before filing. Having a fallback plan is also wise.
Are There Alternatives to Requesting Substitution?
Filing for judicial substitution can be costly, lengthy, and unlikely to succeed. Before going down that road, be sure you’ve explored all alternatives:
Appeal the Ruling
If your concern is an adverse ruling, you can appeal that ruling after final judgment in the case. This preserves your issues for appeal without attacking the judge.
You can formally request that the judge recuse themselves voluntarily if you present evidence of bias or partiality. This doesn’t require a formal motion and hearing.
File a Complaint
If there are legitimate concerns about a judge’s temperament or actions, you can file a complaint with the state judicial oversight commission without seeking formal substitution.
Seek a New Venue
In some cases, you may be able to argue the case should be moved to a new venue and assigned to a new judge for legal reasons.
If possible, seeking an amicable settlement may allow resolving the case without proceeding before the assigned judge.
What Should You Do If Your Request Is Denied?
Don’t give up hope if your request for a new judge is denied. You still have options:
- Be respectful and keep an open mind. The judge will be less likely to hold the request against you.
- Ask the judge to reconsider their ruling(s). Present well-reasoned legal arguments.
- Get advice from attorneys. Consult with legal experts to identify alternative arguments or approaches.
- Request a different mediator. Even if the judge remains, bringing in a new mediator may provide a fresh perspective.
- Focus on presenting facts and evidence effectively. Thorough preparation and presentation of your side’s case is key.
- Consider alternatives like settlement or appeal. If you still feel the judge won’t give your case a fair shake at trial, explore fallback options.
Navigating the complex process of judicial substitution in family court cases is difficult, but may be worthwhile if you have strong evidence of bias, conflicts, or incompetence. Be sure to follow all legal requirements closely. Realize the odds are low, so have backup plans. Stay respectful of the process, and keep your case well-supported by facts and evidence. With thorough preparation, patience, and persistence, justice may still prevail.
What is an example of a valid reason to request a new judge?
Valid reasons include clear evidence of bias, a close relationship between the judge and other party, or incompetence like mental impairment. Stating personal dislike of the judge’s personality or rulings is not enough.
Can I request a new judge just because I don’t like their previous decisions?
No, merely disagreeing with a judge’s previous rulings or track record is not grounds for substitution or disqualification of a judge. There must be evidence of bias, conflict of interest, or inability to remain impartial.
How many times can I request a new judge?
You typically only get one shot at substituting a judge per case, unless new circumstances arise indicating substantive bias or incompetence that weren’t previously known or present. Judges will not look kindly on repeated flimsy attempts.
What happens if my request for a new judge is granted?
If your motion succeeds, the current judge will be disqualified from your case. It will then be reassigned to a new judge according to the court’s assignment procedures, such as random selection, direct calendar, or specialization.
If I request a new judge, will the current judge hold it against me?
Judges are required to remain neutral, so in most cases a substitution request will not negatively impact their rulings if denied. But it’s wise to word your request carefully and professionally to avoid potential offense.