Is an elevated bench necessary in family court?

The Bench

In criminal court, or any which allows a gallery of spectators, it is advantageous for someone to have a superior vantage point. This allows the judge to observe the behaviors and reactions of everyone in the room, and, presumably, be the first to see if something goes amiss.

Is this elevated vantage point necessary in divorce court? I’ve only experienced one, and that’s plenty. There were 9-11 people in the courtroom at any time: The judge, the clerk, the recorder, a bailiff, Donkey & his attorney, my attorney & me, a clerk intern for half of the first day, a witness (1 at a time: Donkey’s brother, cop, cop, DCF, my mother), and Donkey’s brother. His brother testified early, so he was allowed to remain in the courtroom for the majority of the hearing.

My mom, sequestered as a witness, was in the hallway the entire first day as Donkey present his side, half of the second day as Donkey finished presenting his side, and then again after testifying, just in case Barnette decided to call her again. Except for during testimony and judgement, my mom wasn’t allowed my by side.

What advantage did Judge gain from his elevated seat? He could still see facial expressions, fidgety hands or feet, and every other non-verbal que they seek. Maybe even better if he was only slightly above eye level; slightly above enough to see into the witness-box, but not so much to be so damn intimating.

There he sat, on his pedestal, a man in position of power, a man in a position to control my future, a man in position to judge me for my every thought, action, and word. How the hell do you survive that? I blamed myself for being too calm, but I think I was actually just traumatized.

My lawyer had advised I answer only the question asked and nothing more: “what color is the sky?” he asked in practice; “Blue”, I answered; “correct and stop there,” he said. I should have answered a hell of a lot more.

But, I couldn’t have. My abuser was smiling at me as his attorney pounded me into the ground: “is it not in fact true that the reason you did not call the police is because you were in fact the aggressor?” My attorney was staring at his notepad taking notes.

The judge was watching me, head cocked and resting against his hand. With my head barely up to his waist and his greying hair, I was a child in the principal’s office for throwing the second  punch.

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