The time you spend in court for your divorce or family court case will likely be tense and worrisome. Even if you have been in court on previous occasions for business matters, divorce and family law cases are very different types of court appearances. There are a variety of things you should familiarize yourself with and prepare for to feel comfortable in court.
Prepare for Testimony
At most initial court proceedings, you will not be testifying or even saying a single word. You will only testify if a hearing or trial is held in your case. Your attorney will inform you as to when this will happen and will prepare you to testify.
It’s important that you are familiar with what you will talk about, but you should not rehearse exactly what you will say. It may be helpful to have your attorney ask you some sample questions and give you a general run down of what they will ask you and what your spouse’s attorney may ask you about.
A few important things to remember about testimony:
- Speak to the person who is asking the questions, not to the judge
- Speak clearly but do not shout
- It’s ok if you become upset and need a break or just need a break for any other reason. Simply ask for one
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say so. The same is true if you do not understand a question
- Do not offer information that was not asked about
- Be polite, no matter how upset you might be at a question you are asked
- Always tell the truth. Never, ever lie when you are testifying
What to Wear
As you would for a serious business meeting, dress conservatively for court. If you are embroiled in a divorce that involves property division, try to downplay your appearance. Dress nicely and somberly, but avoid clothing, jewelry, and accessories that are obviously extremely expensive or flashy.
What to Bring
It is perfectly fine to bring a bag, briefcase, or handbag, but be aware that anything you bring will be searched or placed through an x-ray machine. You cannot bring any type of weapon with you, and if you do, it will be confiscated at the security desk. If you need to bring food or water with you, keep it in your bag and do not carry it separately. You may bring electronics, but they must be turned off (so they do not make noise or vibrate) when you are in the courtroom.
Who Can Come With You
You may be able to bring someone with you (a friend or family member) for emotional support, but you should check with your attorney first to determine if this particular court will permit this. Do not bring a new partner with you, as this will likely create conflict with your spouse. You should never bring your child to court unless your attorney specifically tells you that you need to. Children should not be present in court unless there is a specific scheduled reason for them to be there.
The most significant thing to remember in the courtroom is that the judge is the most important person in the room, and anything they say goes. As a litigant, your role is to stay quiet, appear pleasant and calm, and allow your attorney to speak for you at all times.
If you have questions or concerns about anything that is happening, you must direct it only to your attorney. You can whisper, or you can write a note. You may be permitted to have a laptop or tablet open and connected to the internet. If your attorney wants you to communicate through a messenger app, you may do so, but your volume must be off. Do not answer your phone, check your mail, or text in the courtroom.
You should sit where your attorney tells you to sit. Remain quiet. Try to keep a neutral look on your face and never ever exhibit outright anger or fury. Do not say anything to the judge, to your spouse, or to other attorneys in the room. Do not speak to court personnel if they do not speak to you first. Try not to tap your toes or your fingers or appear hostile or impatient. Body language is important. First impressions matter. Trust in your attorney and believe that they know how to handle this. Let them.
Follow these tips for courtroom success:
- Always be on time for your court appearance
- Be aware that you may have to wait past your scheduled time to get into the courtroom
- Do not chew gum, eat candy, or put anything else in your mouth when you are in the courtroom unless it is medically necessary
- Do not eat or drink in the courtroom itself. Food may not be permitted in the waiting room, but obey any posted signs
- If a break is called, be sure to be back at the scheduled time
- If you are directed to speak to the judge, refer to them as Your Honor
- If you are not there for a hearing or a trial, you might be meeting with a matrimonial referee or the judge’s law clerk. These people are court employees who deserve respect
- If you are waiting in the waiting room, do not interact with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney, or anyone that came with your spouse
- It is extremely unlikely that the judge will decide anything on the day of your trial. You will need to wait for a decision to come in writing
- Sit down when the judge is seated
- Stand up when the judge enters the courtroom
- Understand that your trial will likely not be completely heard on one day and may take place over several days, in pieces
Knowing in advance what to expect at your court appearance can help you feel comfortable and prepared. Be sure to talk with your attorney before your court date and ask any questions you may have.