Five Tips For Attending Family Court
Everyone gets nervous about going to court, even attorneys and sometimes even judges. In my experience, knowing what to expect helps people prepare for any stressful situation. Whether you are attending court with your attorney, or appearing on your own behalf, here are a few tips to help make your trip to the courthouse a little more comfortable.
First and foremost, always arrive at least 15 minutes early for a hearing. Some judges care about punctuality more than others, but you should always assume your case will be called first, at the scheduled time. Know your route to the courthouse, where you will park, and what courtroom you will be in. Be prepared to go through security screening as you would at the airport. For non-attorneys, attire is not as important as it used to be, but a shirt and tie for men and business-wear for women never hurts. Bring one more copy of all your paperwork than you think you will need, as somehow you always need one more. If you’re meeting your attorney or another person at the courthouse, make sure you’ve specified where.
Unless you are filing a new case or attempting to obtain an ex parte order, you should proceed directly to the appropriate courtroom. Enter quietly as other hearings may be going on. Many court calendars have a sign-in sheet, or require each party to check in with the clerk. Some courtrooms have seating areas assigned for each side of the case. Make sure your phone is off, take a seat and wait until your case or name is called. If you’re with other people, try to whisper, as some courtrooms have microphones recording everything said during proceedings. Remember, the walls have ears – something said while the judge is away, or even out in the hallway, can be repeated by a clerk, bailiff, or anyone else who happens to pass by.
3. Presenting Your Case
When your name or case is called, stand up and walk up to either the front of the bench, or the lectern or counsel table (every courtroom is a little bit different). State your name if not prompted by the court. Generally, for contested motions, the moving party will speak first, followed by the responding, and then the moving party will have a brief chance for rebuttal. If you’re in ex parte it may be just you, and you’ll need to start by stating your name, case name and number, and then clearly and succinctly why you are there, and what you are asking for. If there is another party there, you should never interrupt while they are talking except to make a legal objection. You should keep your attention on the judge, and avoid gesturing or otherwise reacting to what they say. You won’t win any points by shaking your head, sighing, or muttering under your breath. Address the judge as “your honor” or “Judge,” and avoid speaking to the judge in the second-person (“you”). The dignity and decorum of the courtroom is something we all have to work to maintain. Once both sides have made their argument, the judge will usually decide the issue immediately.
4. Wrapping Up
When the judge announces her decision, take careful notes of what she is ordering. Once the judge has made her ruling, it is generally the job of the parties to present a written order for her to sign that conforms to her oral ruling. If you’re going to ex parte you will need to have an order prepared before you go in, but at other times you have to fill one out from a blank form. Ask the clerk if you cannot find a form. Even if you lose your motion, it’s important to stick around and draft an order, or review what the other side drafts, as people often try to insert additional language that was not ordered. Once finished, hand the order to the clerk to give to the judge. The clerk will usually make copies of the signed order for you if you need them, or give the original back to you to do so. If you get back the original order, be sure to file it with the clerk’s office after making your copies but before leaving the courthouse.
5. Special Considerations
If you have a no-contact, restraining or protective order in place and expect the person restrained to be at court, it’s a good idea to let a court marshal know of the situation. If you’re concerned they may hurt or harass you, you can ask the marshal to stay with you, and even to escort you back to your car. The courts are eager not to allow parties to feel threatened or intimidated at court.
Also, do not bring children to court. You will never get sympathy from a judge because they’re there, and very often the exact opposite. Plus, they can be an unnecessary distraction when you have important things to think about. If you cannot find someone to watch your child and absolutely must bring them to court, try to talk to them ahead of time about how important it is to stay quiet in the courtroom, and give them a silent activity to do while there, like coloring or drawing.