Going through the decision to get a divorce and the divorce process itself can be stressful. Add on a trip to the courthouse for a hearing, and people can feel even more stress. Sometimes, this stress causes people to forget certain, otherwise common sense cautions. Other times, their lack of experience is to blame for making mistakes surrounding their courthouse behaviors. Below we discuss the top five courthouse behaviors you should avoid, in the hopes that by reading about them now, before you are on the courthouse steps, you will have the tools you need to make your courthouse behavior above reproach.
1. Do not forget you are at the courthouse. There are lots of different kinds of hearings that take place at the court house. In many counties, the courtrooms where divorce hearings are held are the same courtrooms where judges hear criminal cases. Do not leave any valuables visible in your car. While it is a good idea to leave your phone in the car, do not leave it on the dashboard. Put it out of sight. That having been said, recall other people are heading in and out of the parking lot on the way to their own hearings. Do not get out of your car and put your purse in the trunk. Either put your purse in the trunk while you are still at home, or bring it in to court with you.
2. Do not forget you are visible. There are lots of people who may attend your court appearance in addition to you and your lawyer. This includes:
- opposing counsel
- potential witnesses, including expert witnesses, for the other side
- the bailiff
- court clerks
- court reporters
- the judge’s law clerk, and, perhaps most important,
- the judge.
If you cut someone off in the parking lot, or are rude to someone in the security line, and they happen to be in the courtroom during your hearing, odds are good the judge will find out about it. Of course, being rude in the parking lot is not a legitimate legal basis for determining alimony, child custody decisions, or dividing property, the judge can’t unlearn that your were rude or obnoxious to her staff.
Instead, it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to account for delays in parking and security lines, and put on your most pleasant manners. No one has ever regretted being nice to others on the way into a court hearing. This courthouse behavior is always a good rule of thumb.
3. Keep your mouth empty of objects in court. Some people like to chew gum. Others prefer chewing tobacco (especially if they are nervous). Still others like to put a pen in their mouth to calm their nerves. If you know you have one of these desires when you are nervous, take proactive steps to avoid them in court. Spit out your gum before you go into the court house. Finish your chew before you leave your vehicle. If pens are your vice of choice, leave them in the car. And unless your are suffering from a severe sore throat, leave the cough drops until after your court hearing.
There are several reasons for this. Most judges consider chewing gum disrespectful in the courtroom. However, it is also more difficult to understand people who are talking with something in their mouth. The court reporter’s job is to take down every word that is being said for the record. The judge may be making character determinations based on testimony presented. If you appear disrespectful, or can’t be easily understood, you are not improving your chances for a favorable resolution.
4. Never, ever, ever interrupt. Some people are under the mistaken belief that a court hearing is like a conversation. It is not. Instead, court hearings have structure that is defined by the rules of court. Questions lawyers ask have a structure defined by the rules of evidence. There are procedures in place governing everything from who gets to ask questions first, to the bounds of the topics that can be asked about. You will know when it is your turn to speak, because your lawyer, the other lawyer, or the judge will ask you a question directly. If a question isn’t directed at you, don’t answer.
It is difficult to over state the importance of not interrupting the judge. However, it is also important not to interrupt witnesses, including your soon to be ex spouse. Understand that part of the process is allowing both parties to be heard. If you feel your ex has misrepresented something, let your lawyer know, quietly. They will take the necessary action to address the issue. If, on the other hand, you interrupt your spouse’s testimony, your disrespectful courthouse behaviors will be duly noted by the judge.
5. Mind your manners. It may be tempting to roll your eyes, sigh heavily, or engage in other non verbal behavior to express your outrage, shock, or vehement disagreement. Avoid these behaviors. They do not advance your cause. Instead, they convey a certain level of childishness to the judge. A courtroom is a serious place. Judges expect courthouse behaviors that reflect the respect the court should be afforded.
If you are getting a divorce, you need a divorce attorney who understands the process. At Fait & DiLima, we understand the divorce process, because we focus our practice on divorce and family law issues exclusively. Let us work with you to resolve your divorce in a manner that is consistent with the needs and wants of you and your family. Call today to schedule a consultation at (301) 888-6384. We look forward to working with you.