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Rules for the Courtroom

Here we will discuss general court room etiquette:
1. Always tell your attorney everything - Your attorney is by law prohibited from telling any one anything about your case that you do not want revealed. So make sure your attorney knows every single thing that could help or hurt your case. Of course things that you may think absolutely crucial may, in fact, not be considered crucial to your attorney. You certainly do not want some bad facts to come out at trial and be the first time your attorney has heard them! Better to err on the side of too much information than not enough.

2. Come to court dressed for church. After all this is a courtroom, not your local pub. Do not wear shorts, cutoffs, or jeans if you can avoid it. Do not wear flip-flops or sandals or tank tops and be respectful of the court and the process - whether you agree with it or not. Remember that you are in the judge’s house.

3. If you must talk, go outside of the courtroom. Do not disturb an on-going hearing ever, if you value your case and your freedom. Turn your cell phone OFF, or at least to silent vibrate while you are in the courtroom.

4. If you must leave the courtroom for any reason, and your case is set in that court, tell the bailiff where you are going and for how long - they will usually make a note of your absence and intent to return. If you fail to return, a default judgment could be decided against you, which could be very bad for your case.

5. When you get to the courthouse, go to the court that you are having the hearing in and confirm that you are set for that morning in that court. Tell the bailiff you are there, and you are waiting for your attorney if you have not seen them yet. Remember, with the docket system the way it is set up, it may be that your attorney has several other hearings going on at the same time as yours, so do not panic when your attorney is not there right away. If your attorney is more than 15 minutes late and the bailiff has not heard from the attorney, call the attorney’s office and try to locate him or her. The attorney may be caught in traffic or hung up in a another matter.

6. If you have a chance, sit in the courtroom and listen to any proceedings you can hear. Your case will be set at the same time as many other folks going through your exact experience. It will prepare you and help you to know how the judge treats those people and how the court conducts their hearings or trials. Depending on the docket, you may be there for several hours, if not all day before you case is heard. Take the opportunity to educate yourself on what to say and how to act if you are called in front of the judge.

7. Always be nice to the bailiff, the clerks, the coordinators, the reporter and the judge. First, these people deserve your respect; you would never want their jobs, any of them. They are in my opinion, grossly underpaid for what they do and have to deal professionally with all types of people at the lowest point in their lives, not to mention combatant attorneys, day in and day out. Secondly, these folks hold the keys to the courthouse - they can make or break your case. I do not for a minute believe that any of these civil servants would sabotage your case, but if you are nasty to them they will not take any steps to make sure that YOU don’t sabotage it all by yourself. Lastly, a great number of them carry weapons, and while the debate rages if many of them can actually *hit* a barn, I personally wouldn’t chance it. Further, remember, Court staff cannot and will NOT give legal advice (they could get in very big trouble for doing this) so don’t even ask. Expect that any bad attitude you display will get back eventually to the judge and any threats (whether serious or not) could get you arrested. Be smart, and treat these folks as you would want to be treated. A good and sincere “thank-you” for their time and professionalism will go a long way. Also, when you are in the Courthouse, assume that everybody in the elevator has the power to take your kids away from you. This is a little harsh, but my point is be on your absolute best behavior because you might be standing next to your Judge, opposing counsel you haven’t met, or bailiff in the court that you will be entering.

8. Do not wear a lot of flashy jewelry, especially if you are claiming to be impoverished and need money from your spouse. Leave the bangles and the flashy watch at home. Dress conservatively so that the court does not make any snap judgments about your ability to support yourself or your lifestyle.

Tips to Remember

Get involved.
Get involved with your divorce, get involved with your kids. In so many instances, clients just want it all to go away - they stick their heads in the sand and want the attorneys to just do something - anything to make the pain and trauma of a divorce or custody case to simply disappear. It doesn’t work that way. Your divorce or custody case could be the most important thing you have ever done, short of having your children and being born. You must be involved - pick up your mail and respond with documents that are requested by your attorney *earlier* than they are requested. Ask questions, learn the law, do research, absorb as much as you can and take it all with a grain of salt until an experienced family lawyer lays it out - remember, this is your life, and you need to know what is going on. Remember that asking a question of your lawyer may cost you money, but it will be cheaper for you to ask questions now than to fail to provide something that is critical to your case, and be required to fix the resultant damage later. Take notes, write down what you are told so you do not have to ask any more questions than necessary of the attorney or their office staff who all charge on an hourly basis. You would be shocked at how many folks call us time and again to ask the same questions; it is wasteful to yourself and to the attorney.

Don’t always believe what you hear.
Just because you have a friend whose divorce had a certain outcome, or a judge appeared to be particularly savage to one party or another that they will do the same in your case. Who would you want to listen to, a person who has had one divorce and the stories from that one divorce, or a person like your attorney who has been through thousands of divorces? Who do you want to trust when you make that critical decision to destroy the house, or run with the kids - your friend or acquaintance who means well, or the attorney who knows with a very good certainty what will probably happen in your court? It’s your decision. But don’t be surprised when the hammer falls. I tell my clients, and I mean this - you must wear the “white hat” - do what you need to do to be the bigger person in every dispute. Do the right thing and you will be rewarded for being that person. It may not be an immediate or entirely satisfying outcome, but understand - what goes around in divorce, comes around, and usually ten-fold.