You are one of two lead actors in this show that is your divorce. The courthouse is your Broadway Theater, and the courtroom, your main stage. Your critical role is to turn your toughest and most vital critic: the family law judge, into your biggest fan.
If you bomb or flop while in the spotlight, you may be judged harshly, and the judgment may cast an unshakeable shadow that follows you throughout the legal process both in and out of court. If you deliver a Tony Award-worthy performance that authentically portrays your integrity and the facts and law support your case, there’s a greater likelihood that your judge will rule in your favor. And sometimes, even for the most spiritually evolved human, winning in court is essential to your health and the wellbeing of your children.
So how do you authentically portray trustworthiness and deliver the performance of a lifetime?
Below is a list of tips for courtroom appearances, but first, a feminist’s note.
My tips may resemble a list included in a 1950’s Home Economics college textbook; a list written to teach young ladies how to manage a home after she marries a co-ed, has children and becomes a Homemaker and her husband becomes the Breadwinner. It’s no wonder because, the legal system is, in comparison to today’s mainstream culture, very traditional and can at times, still be sexist towards men and women (e.g. women should be with the children, men should pay spousal support).
Broadly speaking, nonconformity is frowned upon by the judiciary, and frowning judges and court staff are rarely good for anyone who may be appearing in court or otherwise navigating the family law system. So, it’s important to avoid faux pas whenever possible, even if you disagree in principle. My list includes easy ways to improve the odds of being perceived as credible and found to be likable by those whose opinions may impact the outcome of your case. Without further adieu, here is the list.
8 Tips for Courtroom Appearances
1. Dress Conservatively.
If you walk into court wearing a mini skirt, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels, your appearance could determine the fate of your case. A male judge may view you as provocative and a female judge, trashy. These prejudices could result in an unfavorable ruling in your case. To avoid this, dress conservatively. Wear knee-length, well-fitting suits or dresses in neutral colors. Wear minimal jewelry and make up. Style your hair conventionally and leave your sunglasses in the car. This advice may sound sexist but, unfortunately, it is necessary.)
2. Don’t take your boyfriend or male friends to court with you.
The presence of unfamiliar men in court can give the appearance of impropriety, especially in a fault divorce state. If you need your brother or father to accompany you, ask your lawyer to introduce him and disclose his relationship to the court while on the record. If your boyfriend wants to lend his support, ask him to drop you off and pick you up a safe distance from the courthouse each day.
3. Turn off or silence your cell phone or tablet before entering the courtroom.
If you can’t do this because you’re an on-call surgeon, make sure your lawyer announces this to the judge on the record at the beginning of the court session.
4. Be modest.
Do not make faces or gestures when your spouse, your spouse’s lawyer or the judge is speaking. Avoid speaking to your spouse, his lawyer or his witnesses when you are before the judge unless you’re directed to, or yours is a friendly divorce. Don’t use foul language, chew gum or use tobacco.
5. Be respectful.
The judge holds your fate in his or her hands. Convey a message of respect and recognition. Always stand and thank the judge when you speak to him or her. Refer to the judge as “Your Honor.” Show regard for his or her authority and if you must disagree, preface your comments with, “With all due respect your honor….”
6. Keep your emotions in check.
Negative and hostile emotions can cloud your judgment. They also reverberate around you, sending unpleasant messages to others. Depression and intense melancholia can also impede your thinking and make those around you uncomfortable. Leave these emotions outside of the courtroom.
7. Do not take your children to court.
Children are very distracting in court and, more importantly, are too sensitive to be exposed to the realities of divorce. Find a sitter, day care program or relative to care for your children unless, of course, the judge asks you to bring them to court.
8. Be prepared and organized.
Know your case inside and out. Understand the issues at trial and your lawyer’s strategy for arguing them. Review your testimony and prepare for cross-examination. Bring all important information, documentation and pertinent information to court with you. Make sure it’s well-organized and easily identifiable.