From time to time, you may find yourself having to go to Court, in this case or in another case. It's always good to keep in mind the appropriate image to present in a courtroom for the best possible outcome.
Hopefully you'll never have to show up for a court hearing in an orange jumpsuit and cuffs. But even if you were a criminal defendant, you would be allowed to change into a suit for trial by jury, because research shows that what you wear can have a negative (or positive) impact on what others think of you, and you want that to leave only the best impression when your life or welfare is in someone else's hands.
In family court, you won't be facing jail time (unless you haven't paid your child support for a really long time, then it is a remote possibility), but it is no less important to dress appropriately for the occasion. After all, the Court may be deciding to whom to award or how to divide custody of your children or other similarly crucial family matter.
A checklist of some DOs and DON'Ts
Some judges have a list of specific no-nos taped to the courtroom door, things like: "NO tank tops/NO shorts/NO jeans/NO flip flops/NO hats/NO sunglasses."
Others aren't as explicit, but you still don't want to run the risk of raising the ire of the man or woman in the black robe--and possibly being fined or even thrown out of the courtroom and having to start all over on another day, with a guarantee that the judge is already annoyed by you--just because you didn't take enough care in selecting your attire for a court appearance.
To be on the safe side, I recommend dressing up at least to the level of "business casual": A button-down shirt or blouse or at least not a T-shirt with some (potentially offensive) message silkscreened on it; slacks (not blue jeans) or, in the case of women, a skirt is an option. For shoes, I recommend something other than tennis shoes, such as closed-toe heels for women, or wingtips, loafers or boat shoes for men.
Some final thoughts on attire
It is important to note that the clothes you wear to court do NOT have to be expensive. They just need to be clean, pressed and neat. Lean more toward conservative or formal (but not flashy) dress if you're not sure what to wear. Think about what you would wear to church, and that's probably about right.
Both men and women: Please ensure hair is neatly styled, brushed or combed. Women: Please keep makeup to a minimum (mascara and eyeliner is fine).
Demeanor (how to act)
Just as important if not moreso than your attire is how you act in Court. The basic idea here is to show respect for the authority and importance of the Court. Do not be chewing gum or sucking on candy (unless you have a cold, then a cough drop is more than appropriate). Even when the Court is not in session at a particular moment, do not be texting, e-mailing or playing games on your phone, tablet or other electronic device.
When someone else is talking, DO NOT TALK. Instead, LISTEN. If you need to get the attention of your lawyer or someone else, write a note on a piece of paper or wave your hand or tap them or something. Nothing peeves a judge more than a litigant (or anyone) talking over them or talking while a witness is trying to testify or a lawyer is trying to make a statement or argument to the Court while advocating for his or her client.
What if I have to testify?
When you are testifying, look directly at the person who is asking you the questions (whether it's the judge or one of the attorneys). If you feel uncomfortable having the opposing party in the same room as you, don't look at them! Look at your own attorney or somewhere else in the room (like the back row of seats or just above it). If you get nervous in court, just take deep breaths, ask for water, bathroom break, whatever you need.
If you think there is a chance you may be moved to tears at the hearing, please bring facial tissue along. The Court usually but not always supplies a box. By the way, crying is always acceptable, as long as it is sincere. However, smiling or laughing at a somber or quiet moment generally is frowned upon. Think how you should behave at church; a courtroom is also a place to act reverently.
Some final thoughts about demeanor
You may bring relatives and/or friends for moral support. They will need to sit in the gallery (area at the back of the courtroom with the judge, attorneys, litigants, court clerk, court reporter/stenographer, bailiff, etc., on the other side of the pony wall). Anyone who accompanies you also needs to be quiet and not be texting or what-have-you on electronic devices. You want them to be an extension of you and you want to represent to the Court just how respectful you can be and project the gravity (importance) of the occasion. Don't bring any minor children to Court, especially in family court, unless the judge tells you too because they will be needed to testify or talk to the judge in camera (in his or her chambers behind the courtroom). If you do, someone will need to watch the child(ren) outside the courtroom while the hearing is going on.
If you have any questions about how to look or act, just ask the Court or an attorney before you go. Best of luck!
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