No matter how good your side of the events may be, it is important to keep in mind that the issues with child custody, divorce, property division, etc. are before a judge for a short time. This means that even though the facts and your story may have many variables and patterns that have gone on for years, you only have a short time to tell your story to the judge and make a good impression. The judge may only consider the facts before him or her. The judge also has to “judge” the credibility of the evidence presented before him or her, including testimony of the parties and witnesses.
Therefore, it is important to act and appear in a way that that judge would deem “credible” while you are in court. The following are some common blunders domestic litigants make while in court:
- Dress – you should wear court appropriate attire, while your attorney may wear a suit, unless this is something you would normally wear, you may feel out of place in a suit, certainly you do not have to wear a full business suit. However, it is recommended that you dress in business professional attire, a nice shirt/blouse, skirt/slacks, and dress shoes. Do not wear jeans, sweats, sandals, or gym shoes to court. As much as your clothing should reflect a “professional look” so should your grooming; make sure your hair is styled, you have appropriate make up if you normally wear same (ladies), and are clean shaven (gentlemen) or have any facial hair neatly groomed.
- Body Language – Sit in your seat and appear engaged in what is going on, even if you are not talking and maintain a professional demeanor. Do not slump or look bored. Do not make faces at your soon to be ex spouse (judges will see if you roll your eyes). Some emotion and reaction is normal, you do not want to appear so blank as if nothing is affecting you at what would be a highly emotional time, but if you do show emotion it low key and subtle.
- Outbursts – avoid them. Do not ever speak out of turn. Do not interrupt an attorney or the opposing party when testifying. Even if someone is on the stand lying, you should never yell across the court room “you’re lying.”
- Writing furiously or animatedly – Attorneys often ask you to write notes during a trial to communicate. However, writing furiously, in big letters, fast scribbling, dotting the paper hard and repeatedly for emphasis, etc. is noticeable to a judge and distracting to your attorney. Same goes for constantly tapping your attorney’s arm to get his or her attention to look at your note. Your attorney can see you are writing, and will glance over and read, but may need time to absorb and/or take his or her notes as well.
- Distracting Your attorney – anytime you tap on your attorney’s arm, place a note in front of him or her, or whisper to them interrupts his or her train of thought and attention to the witness or judge who may be speaking. This means your attorney may miss key parts of your trial. Keep interruptions to a minimum, and only for very important issues. Writing a note and sliding it towards the attorney, and allowing him or her time to read the note at a natural break in the testimony or proceedings is the best way to communicate.
- Composure / Losing it – along with body language and outbursts, all out “losing it” in court when things do not go your way is inappropriate and will show the judge that you have a hot temper, do not have your emotions in check, and do not know how to act appropriately in certain situations, this would especially be damaging to a contested custody matter, as judges well know that children can push buttons easily and the judge may presume your in-court behavior is reflective of your out-of-court behavior.
We hope that you have found this information to be helpful in understanding court room behavior do’s and don’ts. This is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your specific case, CIYOU & DIXON, P.C. can help evaluate your specific case. This blog post was written by Attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.