Dear Judge,

Unfortunately, my ex has refused to work out a Parenting Time Schedule between the two of us and insists on litigating this issue. This will be my first time in front of a judge, and I’m terrified, mainly because time with my kids is at stake. Do you have any tips on how I should interact with the family law judge?

-Sincerely, Terrified Mom



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Dear Terrified Mom,

Whether you are representing yourself or have the help of an attorney, there are three things to remember. Be punctual. Be prepared. And always, always, always be polite. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.



It is essential that you arrive on time to Court. Give yourself plenty of time to navigate security screening, the crowds, and traffic. Being on time is not only crucial to the judge, but it is also a great way to stay calm and collected. If you are late, scurrying in at the last moment, it adds stress to an already challenging situation.

By being on time, you’ll be able to take in your surroundings and get comfortable. You’ll be able to watch the “other” attorneys and litigants, therefore giving you a better idea of what to expect. Not only that but being late is a sure way to irritate any judge.



If you have one, your attorney should already be prepared. But if you’re representing yourself it’s especially important that you cross your Ts and dot your Is.

Make sure you have filed all necessary documents for presentation to the Court. Have those documents in a manageable and organized format and or file, preferably with a duplicate in case the Judge is missing a critical piece of evidence. Being prepared includes reviewing your paperwork and the reason you are in Court. Know your case, your ‘evidence,” and your “ask. What is it that you hope to get out of your Court appearance? Be ready to answer questions.

Being prepared will also help you stay calm so that you can communicate with the Judge efficiently. Court can be intimidating, and it is easy to get confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated. Write yourself notes, even if just a few bullet points. It really can help!



Ever hear the saying, “you catch more bees with honey then you do with vinegar?” Honey goes a long way in Court. Not speaking out of turn or over the judge or other side is your best course of action if you want the judge to listen to what you have to say. I know it’s hard but the more respectful you are, the more likely the judge will be able to follow your side of the story.

Do not take snipes or digs at the opposing side. Ever. It derails your case and makes you look petty. And never, ever say to a judge “WITH ALL DUE RESPECT.” Doing so is essentially giving the middle finger to the judge.

Being polite also extends to appropriately addressing the judge. Call a judge your Honor or Judge, never anything else.

Even though I strongly advocate mediation over litigation, wherever possible, being punctual, prepared, and polite will go a long way with any judge! If you do find yourself in Court with an attorney or without one, keeping this advice in mind can make a difference in how well you get your point across about the thing that matters most to you: your children.


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About Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.)

Judge Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.) is the Chief Community Officer for coParenter.

Ellsworth is the Past Presiding Judge of Riverside County, a Judicial Educator and former Family Law Judge.

After almost 20 years on the bench, she has earned a reputation for being a straight-forward, no-nonsense, fair judicial officer. A broadly talented jurist and settlement expert, Ellsworth has effectively handled complex civil litigation cases, family law, felony criminal trials, probate and general trials throughout her almost 30 years of lawyering and judging. Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers, earning the trust and revere of her colleagues and the lawyers who appeared before her.

In 2014, Ellsworth was named the Lawyer of the year by the J.Rueben Clark Law Society Los Angeles Chapter. Also in 2014 for her Judicial leadership she was named as an Inductee to Western State University Hall of Fame. And from 2012 to 2014, Ellsworth served as a voting member of California's Judicial Council.

In 2013, Ellsworth was awarded the Douglas Weathers Judicial Leadership Award by the California Consumer Attorneys, as well as various awards for her judicial leadership both as Presiding Judge and for Family Law. In 1999, she was named the American Business Women’s Association Woman of the Year for Judicial Leadership. Ellsworth was appointed vice-chair of the California Court Case Management System Justice Partner Advisory Committee in 2010. She was a member of the Strategic Evaluation Committee appointed by the Chief Justice and of the council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee, and Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants.

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