A divorce proceeding in a court of law is the culmination of months or even years of marital discord and strained domestic relations. No matter what your emotional state is, if you’re going into a court of law for a bench trial or jury trial to plead your case for a favorable outcome, you must know how to keep your feelings in check and follow courtroom etiquette. Continue reading if you want to know how to act in a divorce court.
Whether you and your spouse have arrived at a decision to get divorced with mutual consent or if it is the result of months of bitter contention, bickering and the expensive decision to lawyer up to fight your “unreasonable” spouse, you need to get your act together in front of the judge. A divorcing couple is undoubtedly in the middle of an emotional turmoil rising out of feelings of possible separation from kids, loneliness, financial uncertainty and a general sense of alarm and anxiety about what the future has in store. However, if you let these emotions get the better of you during the divorce trial, you may well be giving your soon-to-be ex-spouse a reason to smile his/her way to a favorable judgment.
It is crucial to know how to behave in court during a divorce so that you increase your chances of making a good impression. Let’s look at some examples of wild theatrics that are known to be displayed in a courtroom, which you must avoid at all costs. You’ll note that most of this behavior is carried forward from the demeanor that a couple has become quite used to, when in the company of each other over the last few months leading up to the divorce.
Inappropriate Courtroom Behavior
- Negative body language such as rolling of the eyes, smirking and in general, reacting to everything that your spouse or his/her lawyer says is incorrect.
- Having your cell phone ring while the proceedings are on is not right.
- Interrupting when the judge or lawyer is speaking is improper. As a part of the legal strategy, your spouse’s lawyer may be blurting out lie after lie (perhaps even to provoke you) and you will be tempted to retaliate instantly. But speaking out of turn is a strict no-no!
- Uncontrolled outbursts and “name calling”, depending on the nature of the accusation is wrong. An impulsive reaction may be justified, but it must be avoided at all times.
- Displaying a general lack of seriousness in the proceeding by turning up in informal attire, chewing gum, twirling your hair, fiddling with your keys or fixing your makeup while the trial is on is not correct.
- Whispering to your attorney or arguing with your attorney is also inappropriate.
Guidelines for Behavior in Divorce Court
- Come across as a serious person. Divorce is a painful process that leads to neglect of oneself, physically and emotionally. Make that extra effort to reach the court on time, look well-groomed, wear neat and tidy clothes. Avoid outlandish attire, weird hairstyles and garish makeup. Maintain a calm attitude at all times, avoid negative body language (such as crossing your legs or arms while speaking, laughing unnecessarily, sounding silly) and turn off those distracting gadgets.
- If you’re asked to speak up, maintain eye contact and be respectful to the person who asked you to answer or comment. Avoid sharp sarcasm, mockery or any other harsh responses, even if the situation justifies it. Avoid glaring angrily at your spouse or his/her attorney.
- If you’re startled by a question or if you do not understand it, say so and ask for it to be repeated. Do not make any assumptions on behalf of the judge or jury while making your point. It is certainly not the time to be reserved, superstitious or hesitant. Be truthful and honest. At the same time, be extremely careful not to make up lies and concoct stories to prove your point.
- Ask your attorney to arrange for a mock trial in case you have never been to a courtroom before or if you’re unsure of the nature of divorce proceedings and rules and regulations of the court.
- This is perhaps a no-brainer, but do not spring surprises at your own attorney with regard to the facts of the case or “skeletons” in your closet. Any sign of disagreement between you and your attorney may not instigate a judge, but it might prove beneficial to the other party. At all times, project your trust in your own attorney.
- In general, before every single reaction/response, put yourself in the shoes of the jury or the judge and imagine what reaction would be appropriate. If you wouldn’t like what you imagine, chances are they won’t either. This way, you can work at effectively curbing any behavior that would hamper your credibility and weaken your case.
- At the time of the trial, if you’re already in another relationship, do not bring your new partner into the courtroom. Even if it’s a custody battle, where the new person’s credibility or position in society could prove beneficial to your case, consult your attorney before bringing them to court.
- Do not engage in conversation with jurors or your spouse or his/her attorney during trial recesses.
- At the end of the trial if the judgment is not in your favor, pull yourself together until you’re out of the courtroom and in a more private area.
In general, adhering to courtroom etiquette can strengthen your case. The judge and the jury are there to decide your fate and therefore, you need to ensure that you don’t behave in a way that makes them doubtful of being sympathetic towards you. In case of a custody battle, your spouse’s attorney may hurl despicable accusations (suggesting that you’re mentally unstable or in an adulterous relationship) at you to prove you’re unfit to take care of your kids and of course, you’ll probably feel angry enough to strangle them.
However, the jury members and the judge are not people who know you personally and “understand” your anger or outburst, no matter how justified your reactions may be. They’re there to do a fair job and while they may read you quite contrary to what your spouse’s attorney suggests by way of accusations, your negative demeanor can cloud their judgment. In such cases, be prepared with some exceptional anger management techniques with the help from a mental health professional or counselor. Remember that the divorce trial is perhaps your first step in getting over your marriage and starting afresh, and knowing about courtroom behavior should be a part of your legal strategy. Maintain a squeaky clean image and be reasonable at all times.