The Modern Family Court Judge: Perspectives from the Bench

Family court is often the only experience that people will have with the judicial process, through divorce, separation, and parental responsibility/custody matters. Unfortunately, even though family court judges are responsible for handling some of the most important matters in peoples’ lives, these judges are often undervalued.

Our 2014 publication, The Modern Family Court Judge: Knowledge, Qualities & Skills for Success, is designed to call attention to the special role of the family court judge, and the special knowledge, qualities, and skills that today’s family court judge must possess.

In a recent Colorado Lawyer article, “The Modern Family Court Judge—More Than Just Pots and Pans,” three Colorado family court judges give candid recommendations and insights into successful and effective practices for both judges and lawyers who practice in this vital area of the law.

Judge Emily Anderson, of the 17th Judicial District Court, notes that the family is “arguably the most fundamental core, personal, and important institution in our society.” Judge Anderson recommends practitioners: develop skills as both a litigator and a negotiator, as well as time management skills; be open to settling the case; and stay calm and promote confidence in clients. She further emphasizes the importance of family court judges in facilitating quick and effective resolutions, and encourages judges to recognize the importance of their roles in families’ lives.

For Judge Kandace Gerdes of the 2nd Judicial District Court, her first experience with family law came on her first day on the bench. Now seasoned in family court, Judge Gerdes appreciates the true value of the court in “helping people move forward in the most difficult of times.” She has found that success in family courts, for judges, self-represented litigants, and practitioners, boils down to 3 Ps: punctuality, preparedness, and professionalism.

Judge F. Michael Goodbee, of the 17th Judicial District Court, describes his experience with the difficult, life-altering nature of family disputes: “These are big tasks.” To help alleviate problems along the way and promote a smooth and efficient process for everyone involved in a case, Judge Goodbee suggests the following: know the case and parties well, have respect on all sides and for the court staff, and be professional and concise.

Each judge has different, but related, words of wisdom. All share the view that the family law bench is more than just dividing “pots and pans.” The broad level of expertise needed, coupled with the lasting impact of court decisions on families, makes the family court judge a vital part of the judicial process. These judges “are dedicated to applying the law fairly and doing their part in helping families through the rigors of dissolution and parental allocation issues.” More than pots and pans, indeed.

Click here to download our report, The Modern Family Court Judge: Knowledge, Qualities & Skills for Success.

Hunter Metcalf is a third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.