For many people, their first experience with a courthouse is through a divorce proceeding. Going to court for the first time can be intimating for someone who does not know what to expect. If you have not been inside a courtroom before you likely imagine it is similar to images portrayed on television. In San Diego, the courthouses and courtrooms are vastly different than the courthouses and courtrooms shown on popular T.V. shows. Below is a list of tips to help you become prepared for your first trip to one of San Diego's family law courthouses.
In San Diego County there are six different courthouses that your case can be assigned to. Your case assignment will be based on the zip code of you or your spouse. Some of the courthouses (Vista, South Bay, and East County) have their own parking lots where litigants can park for free. However, these lots may fill up fast so you will want to allow extra time to find parking before your hearing. The three courthouses downtown do not have connecting parking lots and do not reimburse for parking. Litigants can park at a nearby lot (with a cost ranging from $10-$24 dollars for the day) or a metered parking space. Again, it is important to allow for extra time to find parking before your hearing.
Security in the Courthouse:
The San Diego County Sherriff's Department staffs the security at all of the county's family law courthouses. When you first enter a family law courthouse you must pass through the metal detectors and place all of your personal belongings on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed. If you want to pass through security without any problems, leave any weapons (including household items that could be used as a weapon) at home or in your car. Depending on the rules at the particular courthouse your case is assigned to, you may be required to remove your jacket and/or your belt before passing through the metal detectors. The security check will take a little time, so you will want to arrive a few minutes early to account for that.
Navigating the Courthouse:
After you make it through security, locate the department that your case is assigned to and wait nearby for the courthouse to open. You can often confirm you are in the right place by reading the signs posted outside of the department. Most courtrooms will post a list of the hearings for each calendar that day. One list might say 9:00 AM and have a list of name and then another might say 1:45 PM and have a different list of names. If you think you are in the right place and your case is not listed on the appropriate list, you should check with a bailiff.
Do not be alarmed if you are in the right place at the right time, but the courtroom is locked. It is very common for the courtrooms to open up much later than the time matters are originally set to be heard. When the judge is ready to hear your case, a bailiff will make the announcement that the department is open. Once the announcement is made, file in with the rest of the litigants and check-in with the bailiff. Before the judge takes the bench, the bailiff needs to review the list of hearings and determine which parties are present. If the bailiff has checked your name off the list, take a seat and wait for your matter to be called. While you are in the courtroom make sure that your cell phone is turned off. The courtroom will likely have other rules such as no gum chewing, food, drinks, hats, etc. Family law hearings are public; therefore, you will likely hear other cases go before you and your matter will be heard with the other litigants present in court.