Whether you’ve been trying to avoid court all along during the divorce process or are thrilled you’re finally going before a judge, there are a few things you need to know first. Though some of these tips may seem obvious or overly simplistic, one misstep can throw you off. The result can be anything from added stress to receiving a ruling which is not in your favor. Neither outcome is desirable, so here’s some advice.
1. Know where the courthouse is. Yes, your sense of direction is fantastic, I get it. However, if you’re like most people and get nervous when faced with new experiences, you want to do everything in your power to keep unnecessary stress to a minimum. One way to do that is to make sure you know where you’re going and how long it will take to get there at the hour you will need to go. Also, what’s the parking situation? These are all factors that could psych you out at a time when remaining calm will be one of your biggest assets. Map out your route first, even do a drive-by under similar conditions.. Best to not leave these variables to the unknown.
2. Be on time. This point should also be apparent, in addition to being a nod to the first entry on my list, however because of its importance I’m going to give it individual attention. If you’re one of those people who're perpetually late (you know who you are), this is the day you need to change your ways. Treat your court appearance as you would a job, class, an interview, or, dare I say, your wedding day. Get to the, ahem, alter on time.
3. Expect to spend time there. And anticipate that it may be more time than you believe or want. That means don’t schedule any other appointments immediately following your scheduled appearance or tell your boss you’ll be at that lunch meeting. The last thing you need to worry about is not showing up somewhere. Also, because you aren't allowed to use your cell phone in the courtroom, you won’t be in a position to communicate your whereabouts. Better to clear your calendar for the day and be pleasantly surprised that you have some extra time to yourself than anger or worry others because you’ve gone MIA.
4. Dress appropriately. Think job interview, in a professional environment that is. It’s okay to maintain your unique style but err on the side of conservatism. No outlandish hairstyles, overdone makeup, or outfits that will draw unnecessary or negative attention to yourself. You also want to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing. You may be sitting for a long time, and the temperature in the courtroom can fluctuate. I recommend dressing in layers, adding or decreasing as necessary.
5. Bring all necessary documents with you. If you’re going to court with an attorney, he or she will advise you what you need to bring. At a minimum, count on requiring identification to enter the courthouse. If unsure what's proper ID or what you can and cannot carry with you into court, ask your lawyer or call the courthouse in advance. If you’re taking documents, lay them out the night before, so you don’t forget anything. Once you're in court, you likely won’t have the opportunity to go out and retrieve forgotten items.
6. Let your lawyer do the talking. If you’re going to court with your lawyer, let your lawyer speak on your behalf. That’s what he or she is trained to do. Attorneys are also well versed in courtroom etiquette. In spite of how many courtroom dramas you've watched on TV, you're not. Staying silent may be frustrating, especially if you’re being maligned in the courtroom by your spouse or ex-spouse’s attorney or feel the judge is ruling unfairly. Trust me when I tell you there will be other opportunities to voice your thoughts.
7. Don’t speak unless spoken to. You may be called upon to answer questions directly from your lawyer, opposing counsel, or the judge. Be careful to answer the questions they're asking and not volunteer additional information or speak without being asked to first. Regardless of what you have to say, the court will look at outbursts unfavorably. The courtroom is a place to exercise self-control.
8. Be respectful. Not only should you behave politely, but you should also put on your poker face. Anyone looking at you should have no idea what you’re thinking, even if you’re listening to something you deem outlandish. That means no eye rolling, head shaking, or behavior that someone could construe as rude. You'll have your chance to voice any disagreement you may have later.
9. Understand you may not get everything you want. Just because you go to court doesn’t mean you’re going to walk away with all of your demands. For starters, you may need to compromise. Also, you may need to go back to court again, multiple times. Understand that court appearances are like battles; sometimes you have to lose a few before winning the war.
10. Stay calm. Although it may feel like you have a lot riding on one court appearance, and you very well may, getting nervous and upset will do nothing to help your cause and, instead, can only hurt it. If you remain calm, it will be easier for you to implement all of the tips I've described above. With that, my final and perhaps most important piece of advice is to let your attorney do your worrying for you. Because, chances are, with a skilled attorney you have less to worry about than you think.
Vikki Ziegler is the star of Bravo TV’s Untying the Knot, the founder and CEO of DivorceDating, Author of The Pre-Marital Planner (to stay happily married) and The Pre-Marital Planner: Your Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage, and a co-founder of and partner at Ziegler & Zemsky, LLC. To learn more about Vikki, visit www.vikkiziegler.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.