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Going to Court: Five Tips to Help You Succeed

on May 18, 2017 in Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce

Divorce is a stressful and challenging time in any person’s life.  Going to court for divorce proceedings tends to compound the anxiety and stress of the process.  Because of this, it is essential persons going to court be mindful of their own conduct.  Additionally, one should actively take steps to consider the choices they are making before entering the courtroom.  While proper courtroom behavior may not lead a party to prevail on any given issue, improper behavior can provide a lasting impression on the court – which could impact the court’s decisions in your case.

1.  Understand the Purpose of the Proceedings

There are a few different reasons one may go to court during divorce proceedings.  Take the time to speak with your attorney, or the office paralegal or other dedicated legal professional, to make sure you understand the purpose of the hearing and the issues at hand.  Will you be testifying?  Are there documents you need to provide?  Are there documents you have previously provided that you will be expected to testify about?  A meeting to review the matter at hand is essential.  After the meeting, whether on the phone or in person, you should have the following information:

  • The time of the court appearance;
  • The purpose of the court appearance;
  • The location of the court appearance;
  • What information the court expects from you;
  • What information the court expects from the other party;
  • Any documents you are expected to provide;
  • Any documents you may be testifying about; and
  • Approximately how long the hearing may take.

When planning your court appearance, build in extra time to allow for parking and going through security.  Depending on the time of day, security clearance can take as long as 30 minutes.  Additionally, build in some time at the back end of the hearing.  Even if your particular hearing is only scheduled to last an hour, if the judge’s calendar is full, or the morning calendar has spilled into the afternoon, you may find the case takes longer than you anticipated.  It is particularly a good idea to build in an extra hour or two if you have child care issues.

2.  Dress Appropriately

Flip flops and cutoffs have no place in the courtroom.  Regardless of how well you and your soon to be ex-spouse get along, the courtroom carries with it certain formalities.  For example, when the judge enters the courtroom, the bailiff asks all present to rise.  This is a sign of respect given to the court each and every day.  You show similar respect by how you dress for the proceedings.  Consider a suit, or a button-down shirt and a skirt or pressed slacks.  Your attire sends a message to the judge.

3.  Forget What You Have Seen on Television

This cannot be stressed enough.  No matter what you have seen, whether on a night time soap, a docudrama, Law and Order or some functional equivalent, or Forensic Files, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to model your conduct after something you have seen on television.  Recall that most television is fiction.  The people writing the scripts are not actually attorneys, even for courtroom scenes.  Even in shows that document real events, just because a witnesses’ testimony is depicted, doesn’t mean it is what model testimony looks like.

When you are being questioned, listen to the questions posed.  Respond in a clear voice, making sure the court reporter and the judge can hear you.  Do not use slang such as “uh-uh” and “uh-hah.”

When you are not being questioned, behave as though you are being watched – because you are.  You do not serve yourself or your case by rolling your eyes, sighing heavily, shaking your head in response to testimony from another witness, or communicating with your attorney in a loud whisper.  Instead, you are doing yourself a disservice.  You are showing disrespect to the court.  Additionally, this shows an inability to control yourself.  You may not think the judge is watching you – and you may be right.  However, the court reporter, the judge’s clerk, and other members of court staff may see your conduct and report it to the judge.  When making critical decisions about child custody and property division, one party’s immaturity and lack of self-control could very well impact the court’s decision.

4.  Show Respect to Everyone

Judges are known to be quite protective of their staff.  If you are disrespectful to staff, you can expect that to be reported to the judge.  You should be on your best behavior from the moment you pull into the courthouse parking lot.  Tempted to dress down the woman who took “your” parking space?  Be careful!  She might just be the judge’s clerk – or the judge herself.

Find yourself at the end of a 20 person line going through security?  Your patient, understanding demeanor may not be reported to the judge.  However, your childish demands to go to the head of the line, accompanied by declarations such as, “I have a very important court appearance!” most likely will.  Everyone waiting in line at security has something “very important” to them inside the courthouse.  Whether they have their own court appearance, they are appearing as a witness for someone else, are present to obtain legal documents, or are at the court house to get married, everyone in the security line is a person deserving of your respect.  Failure to give it will most likely be noted and reported.

5.  Take a Moment Before Court to Center Yourself

The stress of a divorce, or modification of prior divorce proceedings, coupled with the stress of appearing in court, can be overwhelming.  Take a moment to center yourself before you enter the courtroom.  Remind yourself that while this may feel overwhelming in the moment, the reality is, this appearance just requires a small portion of your life.  Take a deep breath.  Recall your prior discussion with your lawyer.  Enter with the confidence that comes from being well prepared.

If You Are Considering Divorce

Divorce can be a tumultuous time.  You need someone on your side to help you focus on what really matters.  The lawyers at Fait and DiLima understand.  We have extensive experience in all aspects of family law.  Contact us today to discuss your case.