When you’re in the family courts—whether it is for adoption, divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship—one of the most important things to remember is that you’re asking a stranger to make a decision about your life. It is vitally important to make a good impression.
DON’T bring your girlfriend or boyfriend to court unless your attorney has told you to bring them. Aside from being in poor taste, it creates a bad impression with the court. There are already a lot of people at the court, and it can cause unnecessary ill will with the other party.
DON’T dress as though you are going “clubbing” after court. The courthouse isn’t a place to meet your next boyfriend or girlfriend. We are here to conduct serious business that deals with people’s lives, which often involves emotional extremes.
DON’T bring children to court unless it is an adoption. Again, court deals in misery. It is no place for children.
DO dress as though you are going to church or perhaps a funeral. Jeans and shorts are a no-no; tank tops, tube tops and T-shirts are also a bad idea. Most judges I know won’t even let you in the courtroom if you’re dressed in any of those.
DO practice saying “yes sir/ma’am” and “no sir/ma’am” or “yes/no your honor.” “Yeah” and “uh-huh” don’t come out very well on a recording, and it isn’t clear what you’re saying.
A few weeks before your hearing, you should meet with your attorney and probably the paralegal as well. They will want to go over what is necessary to prove or disprove. They will want to go over forms that have to be filled out and filed with the court. There may be items that have to be subpoenaed or for which they must file an affidavit or give the other side notice of if they intend to introduce it into evidence. About a week before court, you will want to meet with your attorney and paralegal again to make sure everything has been done, to make sure there have been no changes, and to go over your testimony again.
The “bad news” for you is that preparation takes time and costs money. However, as the saying goes: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
Going to court is a team effort. It takes time. It costs money. Don’t wait until the last minute to hire an attorney. Don’t put off meeting with the attorney in an effort to save money. Dress appropriately. Answer the questions asked of you. Tell your attorney everything ahead of time—especially the bad stuff. Work with your legal team to prepare for success.