When you’re making a courtroom appearance, there is a certain level of decorum you are expected to uphold. Fair or not, disregarding that etiquette can negatively affect your case.
It would be nice if we were only judged by what’s inside, but appearances matter when it comes to appearing before a judge. If you end up having to go to court, you need to realize that the courtroom demands respect and you must follow protocol in order to avoid potentially damaging your case.
Before your court appearance, your attorney should go over everything you need to know. They’ll review how long you’ll likely be there, what you’ll be discussing, and whether or not you’ll be testifying. Additionally, they should go over the facts of your case and if you are expected to testify then they should go through the process for your direct examination and potential cross examination.
Here are a few more tips regarding proper courtroom etiquette to help you survive your day in court.
It’s important to make a good first impression with the judge and one of the best ways to do that is by dressing professionally.
Treat this like a job interview. Wear a simple suit and tie if you have one. Otherwise slacks and a nicely ironed button-down and tie will work just fine. Don’t try to show off (it won’t look good if you’re trying to avoid alimony and you show up in a pinstriped Armani), but dress in neutral colors.
You also want to make sure you are well groomed. Make sure your hair is combed and facial hair trimmed. Cover up any tattoos and remove any piercings if you have them.
Furthermore, keep in mind that your body language can speak volumes even when you say nothing. Eye rolls, furrowed brows, and other angry expressions can harm your case just as much as speaking out of term if the judge takes it the wrong way.
As tough as it might be, maintain a neutral poker face and a firm upright posture.
Be respectful, wait your turn
How you interact with the judge and opposing counsel is also central to proper courtroom etiquette.
“The most important thing that I advise my clients is to keep calm,” said Cordell & Cordell attorney Camille Pedrick. “The court or the judge is looking at you the entire time. They can see if you’re making facial gestures, if you’re nodding your head or shaking your head and it’s important to really try to keep that to a minimum.”
If you have to testify in your case, answer questions directly, especially if your attorney is the one asking the question. He or she generally knows what your answer is going to be and it’s important not to go too far off topic. If the opposing counsel or judge asks you a question, stay calm and answer directly as well.
If your attorney objects during your testimony, let them finish the objection before you answer because the ruling the court makes might make a determination as to whether or not you will answer the question.
Finally, don’t interrupt the opposing counsel when you’re in the process of testifying. Let them finish whatever discussion is being had and then you’ll be asked a follow-up question and your attorney should direct you as to what to do.
Don’t lash out
Throughout the duration of your divorce case, the court is only going to hear from you for an hour or two at the most. If you come across as bitter and resentful for too much of that time, the court is likely to assume you behave this way all the time.
The court is very concerned with your ability to treat your ex-spouse respectfully when you are in front of your children. In their mind, this will be indicative of your ability to effectively co-parent.
The opposing party might have try to bait you with lies or misrepresentations to try to get you to interject and cause a disruption. Don’t fall for their trap. Take the high road and bite your tongue.
Focus on the end game. By keeping a cool head and staying composed, you are proving to the judge that you are a mature parent who wants what is best for your kids.