How to Behave in Divorce Court
6 Things Not to Do in Court
1. Show up late for divorce or custody hearing
Didn’t your mother ever scream at you “you’re going to be late!” My mother definitely did that – over and over again. She did it so many times that the concept of “not being late” was woven into my genes. I always get everywhere on time. I always get to places early. And if the place I am going in a major life event, I am there really, really early. If the event is a super-terrific-important-dangerous-scary-big, big, big life event such as going to court; I go by there the day-before to see the drive and scope out exactly where it is. The bottom line is that I always arrive on time. But many people do not share that bottom line. They arrive late, last minute, or do not show up at all.
2. Don’t comply with basic family law court requirements
To explain this we need an example. In any case involving children whether divorce, paternity, dependency, or any of the less common child-oriented situations the court routinely orders both parents to take a 4-hour parenting course. This is a course on what not to do to children during the court case and also how to treat children beyond the court case. The courses are typically held during weekdays, on weekends, and during many evenings. It is one visit. And not by coincidence, the length of the course matches the title. It lasts 4 hours. There is no test you can fail, no lengthy enrollment process, and no prerequisites. Just show up, keep your eyelids peeled back, and try not to get out of your seat too often. That’s it – short and simple. You need to take the course normally within 45 days of your filing. But apparently many people are too busy or not concerned enough with their case to promptly take the course. One jurisdiction we work in went through a period of throwing people in jail for the weekend for not taking the course. Maybe that is the right thing and should continue. Or the better idea – go take the course, look awake, and stay there for 4 hours. You decide.
3. Show up to court dressed in club wear
We see it all. Low hanging pants, breasts, butts, wife-beater tee-shirts, shorts, tatoos, piercings, funky sneakers, and bad perfume. I guess we need to go back to stupid things paragraph one – didn’t your momma teach you how to dress? Or if that did not take, why prepare a demonstration for the judge that you lack any type of respect for the process? Everyone needs to dress as they would for church, temple, mosque, business meetings, or any personally important occasion. Women: you will not get a good ruling by looking sexy, or showing body parts for the judge. Men: if you look like you live in a cardboard box the court ruling may end up requiring you to live in a cardboard box. When you are going to court you need to dress classy, respectfully, and appropriate for a serious environment. With that said … don’t attempt to look better than me going into court or I may have to tackle you.
4. Making faces in the courtroom
I see would-be contortionists communicate their anger, disgust, rage, and shock – all while they are less than 10 feet from the judge’s eyeballs. You would be amazed. From rapidly shaking heads to mouths shaped in a perfect “O” many people show the judge exactly what they are thinking. I think when some people go to court they temporarily remove the filter that blocks their brain from spilling out into their looks and words. Some people control their faces but furiously go to war with their pen on a pad as if they are horribly angry at the pad. You frequently see things out of the corner of your eyes – don’t you? So what makes people think a judge cannot see their expressions and behavior? It may be tough but there is a need for control and calmness. It is not a good thing to show glaring, tapping, head shaking, or angry writing. Besides, the attorneys are already doing that. You would not want to steal thunder from their show.
5. Blurting Out Comments, Crying, agitation, and rapid rocking
This is a takeoff on item number 4. There are the criers and shakers (as opposed to “movers and shakers”). They come into the courtroom and cannot control their emotions. Both men and women are guilty of this. They cause a messy emotional scene that is noticed by everyone in the courtroom, including the judge. The courtroom is mainly a place of law and only secondarily a place of compassion. I have yet to see a situation where showing emotions benefited anyone. And the opposite is normally true; making a big emotional scene tends to hurt a case. I am sorry. I know this paragraph sounds cold. But every angle of a hearing needs to be addressed and this is definitely an important angle. This reminds me of a saying I learned from a pre-school teacher. I have a young child in preschool. Last year she had the best teacher in the world; a lady named Ms. Phyliss. Ms. Phyliss is a very mature, very competent teacher that seemed a bit out of place in a preschool because you don’t expect real teachers to be there. She seemed to rule the class with an iron hand and a soft heart. And my 5-year old would constantly come home with special sayings. There is one saying that really struck a chord with me and I think of it every time I think of thing-not-to-do number 5: “Crying won’t get you nowhere.” I love that saying! I have been on the lookout for the perfect opportunity to say that in court, but that moment has yet to arrive.
6. Stomp out of courtroom after the judge makes a ruling
Are you crazy!! Don’t do it! Put your face and feet on auto and walk out in a calm, expressionless way. If you are one of my current or past clients you may have seen one of my routines. I put my hand up and quietly whisper “lets talk outside.” Then when we get outside the courtroom door I tell them to wait till we are in another hallway. Sometimes I get theatrical and give the old line “the walls have ears.” In any case, you can really hurt yourself with a bad exit. Successful talk show hosts and comedians all have one thing in common; they know how to make a good exit. One misplaced, bad expression or word in the ears of the judge can change everything. Legally it should not. But judges are human just like you and I. Control yourself and control your mouth and you will be ahead of 90% of the people that attend court. I am full of sayings today so I have to give one final word of advice: Behave yourself so you don’t snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Attorney Howard Iken practices divorce, custody, and bankruptcy law in the entire Tampa Bay area. We have a dedicated team of attorneys serving clients in Tampa Bay, Central Florida, and other various counties. Call us for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.