7 Court Secrets You Need To Know
Before Heading To Divorce Court, Make Sure You Know This
Statistically, most divorcing couples will never enter a courtroom. Instead, their cases will be decided through collaborative family law. In some situations, however, there comes a time when a judge will decide the couple’s fate. How you present yourself in the courtroom will have a direct impact on the outcome of your case. Here are the top tips to help you in the courtroom.
1. APPEARANCES COUNT
According to Steve Ashley, founder of the Divorced Fathers Network, an individual’s appearance says a lot. Sometimes men will show up to a courtroom and they may come right off of a job site,” Ashley says. He may look like his life is all about work instead of preparing to talk to someone about a serious matter like his children.”On the other hand, it is possible to overdress for the occasion and appear overly prosperous.”
Certified divorce coach and divorce support channel guide at About.com, Cathy Meyer agrees appearance is a big part of being successful in court. “Leave your cleavage at the door, dress conservatively,” Meyer says. You don’t want to wear your diamond-studded earrings, don’t drench yourself in jewelry. Look like your common average person.” Meyer suggests men wear khaki dress pants and dress shirt to court. For women, she recommends a conservative pantsuit or dress. Overall, Ashley and Meyer both say what is most important is to dress professionally, yet truthfully.
2. WATCH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE
Along with a person’s appearance comes body language and communication. According to Ashley, one of the biggest mistakes a person can make in the courtroom is to not appear vested in the case. For example, Ashley pointed out that women tend to express their feelings more openly than men, whereas men are more likely to focus on providing issues such as money and shy away from their feelings. That can be detrimental to a man. “If he will speak more about his feelings and his plans for his children he may do better in court and have a better chance of having shared parent arrangements,” Ashley says.
Ashley also stressed the importance of being involved the case. “I have had attorneys tell me that when a person comes in and hands their life over to the attorney, the parent becomes the caboose on the train,” he says. “The judges don’t like to see parents do that.”
For Ashley, this method has paid off when his ex-wife and spouse sought permission from the court to relocate with his daughter. “My argument was all about how this was not a practical move and how it was not a good move for our daughter,” Ashley says. It was pretty clear to the court I was an involved parent.”What Ashley didn’t do was place blame on his ex-wife and dig up their history. “I wasn’t pointing fingers at my daughter’s mother,” he says. “I didn’t bring up anything from the past. They just don’t want to hear that.”
3. BE HONEST, NO MATTER WHAT
According to Wevorce.com blogger Christina Rowe, author of Seven Secrets to a Successful Divorce, being truthful with the court is also vital. Rowe, who is divorced, uses her own courtroom experience as an example. “At our first court hearing my ex-husband was on the stand and asked by the judge if he had access to firearms. He answered ‘no,'” Rowe says. “Six months later two handguns that my husband had hidden were discovered. Even though the guns were not illegal, the judge was furious that he was lied to.” From that moment on the judge was able to decipher who was telling the truth in our divorce. My husband lost all credibility by telling that lie,” Rowe says.
Meyer backs up Rowe’s statement. Above all else, be honest,” she says. “Even if you’ve got something to say that is going to make you look bad, being honest about it is going to make you look good.” Meyer also recommends discarding any assumptions at the courtroom door. “Don’t go into court with assumptions, always go into court being humble. You can say ‘OK, I have the upper hand in this case.’ That arrogance is going to show in the courtroom. That is one thing the judge is going to look at. That judge has great discretion on how he rules.”
Lastly, Meyer adds, when addressing the judge and courtroom staff, be sure to do so appropriately. Judges should be referred to as “Your Honor,” and courtroom staff as “Ma’am” and “Sir.” Additionally, when answering questions speak clearly and don’t use terms like “yeah,” “nah,” and so on.
4. KEEP EMOTION OUT OF IT
Perhaps one of the hardest aspects of being in court is keeping emotions in order. How you behave in the courtroom during your divorce will have an impact on how your case is decided. “Make sure to stay calm and in control at all times in the courtroom,” Rowe says. “Your attorney speaks for you here, and you should remain silent unless your attorney, or the judge, directs you to speak.”
“Keep your anger in check,” Meyer adds. “Keep your opinions to yourself, let your lawyer do the talking.” Meyer also points out that while it is important to not be emotional, there may come times when a person cries in court. “I won’t say don’t cry — a judge will understand that,” she says. “But logic rules the courtroom, not emotion.” Rowe says a primary reason for staying in control revolves around an individual’s integrity. “If you come across as being out of control and angry, you lose credibility. It is crucial that the judge in your case sees you as a responsible, honest caring person. This can directly affect the judge’s rulings in your divorce case,” she says.
Furthermore, Rowe added, divorce proceedings typically last for a long period of time. Remember, once your case has gone to court you will most likely be seeing the same judge for all of your motions and court dates. The judge quickly forms an opinion about both parties,” she says. Along with keeping emotions in check, Meyer says to remain mature. “Another thing I have noticed is people tend to forget that they are mature adults. I have seen people make faces at their spouse, be mature. Don’t engage in conflict.”
5. BE PREPARED AND ORGANIZED
While most individuals would like to think their attorney is always prepared, Meyer says that is not always the case. “Attorneys are fallible people, they are humans, too. This is one thing most litigants fail to realize. You hire a divorce attorney and you take it for granted that he is going to show up to court with everything that is needed.” Instead, Meyer recommends keeping copies of everything provided to the attorney.
By showing up to court with everything in hand, the litigant has the assurance of knowing he or she has a safety net if the attorney forgets something. In addition, Meyer says staying organized helps to distract from courtroom jitters. “If you are concentrating on being organized, you’ve got less time to think about the emotional aspect,” she recommends.
6. COME ALONE
Court is a frightening proposition. “People will say ‘I need a support system,'” Meyer says. But resist the need to invite friends and family. “You are not going to court to do battle. Be strong and go alone. I went to court with my husband eight different times and I wisely went right by myself,” she adds. Along the same lines, Meyer suggests avoiding speaking on cell phones or texting while in the courtroom. “You are there to do business with the judge, not anyone else,” she says.
7. KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO SPEAK UP
In certain situations, a litigant may need to communicate with his or her attorney. “There is a proper way of going about this. Don’t whisper in your attorney’s ear. If you do whisper, remember that sometimes the microphones at the table are very sensitive, and what you say may be recorded by the courtroom audiotape, and heard by the court reporter, even if nobody else hears you,” she says.
If your attorney is saying something that’s incorrect, or if you feel he or she needs clarification on a point, that’s what your notepad is for. Use it and use it directly. “It is a good idea to thank the judge after the hearing. Always be respectful,” Rowe says. She adds that you may feel free to take notes when the judge is speaking. “If you need to you may show these to your attorney, but wait until the judge has finished speaking,” she says.
Additionally, Rowe says to avoid speaking directly to the judge unless prompted to do so. “My own divorce was litigated in the family court system for 18 months. Many times when my husband had taken the stand and lied, I felt like speaking out, it was very difficult. But I remained in control and let my attorney do the talking,” Rowe says. I used a notepad to communicate during the hearings and did not speak unless I was asked a question by the judge directly.”
Casey Clark Ney is a freelance journalist based in Boise, ID. She holds a B.A. in communication and has more than six years experience in newspaper and magazine writing. E-mail correspondences can be sent to email@example.com.