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In most places, one can become a family law judge in one of two ways: by appointment or by election. Either way, certain training and expertise in family law is almost always required. All family law judges start out as family law attorneys, and most have spent significant time in practice.
It is rare for a jurisdiction to set detailed requirements for becoming a family law judge, but judges typically have broad experience litigating and practicing family law. To be an effective family law judge, you will need to understand the complexities of the cases that will come before you. You will also need to convince those in charge of your selection that you have the expertise to do the job well. This type of knowledge is most often achieved through experience.
A family law judge’s primary function is to preside over a family court. Family court is, in almost all cases, where families are deconstructed: it is where divorces are decreed, restraining orders against spouses issued, and the custody and care of children decided. Being a family law judge requires knowledge of the law, but also compassion and a certain degree of practical wisdom. An ability to emotionally detach from difficult decisions is often also helpful.
In most countries, the judges of all courts, including the family law courts, are selected on an appointment basis by some law council body or official. For instance, in the United Kingdom, a government official known as the Lord High Chancellor is in charge of making judicial appointments. Most of the time, family law judges are selected based on their record serving as family law barristers.
A similar system exists throughout much of the European Union (EU). Each country appoints its own family law judges from among its top family law lawyers. A family law judge in an EU country may work in his own country’s family law courts, or may be sent to work in the larger, overarching EU courts, usually on a rotating basis. Countries in the EU each have their own selection criteria for judges, selection almost always requires graduation from a national law school and a certain number of years’ worth of formal family law training.
Some appointments are made based solely on a lawyer’s reputation, but not always. Family lawyers who wish to be considered for judicial positions can bring their candidacy to the attention of selection officials in a number of ways. Some countries entertain open calls for nominations. Almost all will allow motivated lawyers to meet with the selecting body to make a case for themselves. You will need to contact your local law council to determine how to best promote your own judicial candidacy.
Things are a bit different in the United States. Some family law judges are appointed, typically by state governors, but many also are elected. Different states have different policies. In election jurisdictions, a person who wants to become a family law judge must declare an intent to run several months in advance of the election. Some jurisdictions allow judges to claim party affiliations, but not all do.
If you are hoping to become a family law judge in an election jurisdiction, it is a good idea to get a copy of your jurisdiction’s nomination and election requirements well in advance of any deadlines. Jurisdictions usually have strict rules about what sort of credentials and law training you must have to be eligible to run. There are usually rules pertaining just to the election that you must follow, too. Rules are usually available from your local election board, and also from your bar association.
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