Be ready and keep your cool
Although most divorces are settled out of court, some require temporary orders from the court and others a trial to resolve some or all issues. Whatever the reason for them, court appearances can raise anxiety of even the most stouthearted. Knowing what awaits you, how to dress, and how to act will alleviate some of your stress.
Going to court
Going to court is bound to increase anxiety. Knowing what will happen and how to act will diminish your nervousness.
For your court appearance, dress comfortably, conservatively, and in a manner that shows respect. If you are uncertain about what to wear, ask your lawyer.
Court personnel usually will include a judge, court reporter, court clerk, and bailiff. In a contested trial, your spouse, his or her attorney, experts, and other witnesses will be present.
If more than one case is set for trial on the same morning, you may have to wait while other cases are handled. Being in court can be tedious, so bring supplies to get you through the day: a pen or a pencil and small note pad, spirit, hard candy or a snack, and book (in case you have to wait).
When your case is called
As your legal representative, your lawyer will give a brief statement of the facts or legal basis for your suit. This may occur in open court or may take place informally in the judge’s chambers or be included in written documents filed with the court.
In a contested case, you will be asked to come forward, be sworn, and take the witness stand. Your attorney will ask questions that will enable you to tell your story to the court. It is not unusual for the judge to ask a question or two. After your case has been heard, it is submitted to the court, and a judgment is requested. An executed marital separation agreement may be presented to the judge for approval or review.
When a contested case is called, you will be offered a chair beside your lawyer at the counsel table. This will be your place during the trial. The petitioner will put on his or her case and witnesses first. Witnesses will be called and sworn and will testify. Each party’s attorney will have the opportunity to question each witness as well as the petitioner and the respondent.
If you are the respondent, you may be called for cross-examination. (The opposing lawyer may request your testimony under oath before your attorney questions you.) You may also be the first witness. This is common practice. Your lawyer will assist and prepare you for this.
After the case is heard, your lawyer argues the issues. Sometimes each lawyer submits a brief or memorandum after the trial. The judge may decide the case immediately, m may spend some time studying it, or may wait to hand down a judgment until he our she has further memorandums and briefs.
Whether or not your case is contested, the following suggestions will improve your appearance and testimony in court.
- Tell the truth. Tell only what you know. Understand the question. Answer only that question. As with your deposition, do not volunteer information when testifying in court. If you are asked how many children are in your family, for example, simply give the number. Do not volunteer additional information such as, “We have two children. I wanted more, but my five years in the penitentiary prevented a larger family.”
- Take your time. Talk loudly. Don’t chew gum. Keep your hands away from your mouth.
- Be courteous. Don’t argue with the other lawyer. Do not lose your temper.
- Be sincere and direct. Remain on point and brief.
- Don’t be distracted or afraid. Look at the person who asks the questions, and be as positive as you can. Just tell your story in your own words to the best of your ability.
- Do not be ashamed to tell the whole story. This is your one day in court. The outcome of the case may very well depend on the facts disclosed by you and your witnesses.
Your lawyer will consult with you during the trial. As the trial progresses, tell your lawyer, in a note or a whisper, anything he or she should know, but be careful not to distract from the case. During testimony, your lawyer must concentrate on each question and answer, watch the reactions of the judge and opposing counsel, and be ready to object.
Never react to the testimony of others. No matter how strongly you disagree with it. Gasps, gestures, and reactions. are never appropriate. Such behavior will reflect poorly on you, and may result in a reprimand from the judge.