When you have to be in court, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. As a lawyer, I frequently visit courthouses and judges statewide. But that’s me and not you! Here are some things to keep in mind for your appearance…
- Dress appropriately. Suiting is not required for litigants, but please do not show up in shorts and a golf shirt. Your attire shows respect to the formality and solemnity of the process. Think business casual.
- Be on time! Except for the uncontrollable emergency or traffic delay, you should be there on time. Judges do not like to be kept waiting.
- Check your emotions at the door. This is not the time nor the place to let out that tirade you have been saving up. Keeping your cool, if that means keeping your distance, is of the utmost importance. Practice your poker face, deep breathing, and happy place – whatever will get you through.
- Do not bring an entourage. In some situations, one companion is acceptable. Generally speaking, you need to face this on your own. Please, please, please do not bring a new significant other or the one person in your family that your spouse hates. This only exacerbates an already stressful situation.
- Do not bring your children. A courthouse is no place for children. Especially when the visit has to do with their parents’ divorce. Again, there are limited exceptions to this but unless you are told specifically by your attorney that you fall into one of those exceptions, do not do it. If you have childcare issues, let your attorney know so they can coordinate.
- Pay attention. Everyone deals with stress differently. Some people check out in stressful situations. Try not to do this. Listening to what the judge and attorneys have to say about your case is important.
- Ask questions. If you feel like you are missing something, do not be afraid to speak up. A good attorney wants their client to understand and meaningfully partake in the process.
- Expect to be there all day. Unlike television, court is rarely a quick and neat visit. In every county in New Jersey, judges, staff and court administration handle thousands of files. Emergencies happen at the courthouse. Things take longer than anticipated. Interruptions happen. You or your attorney cannot control these circumstances. Plan for the worse and hope for the best!
- You might be left waiting alone. It is not uncommom for a judge to ask to speak to the attorneys alone in chambers. There is no secret plotting happening behind closed doors. Judges often use these meetings to help get a better feel for a case or to express some concern they have so that issues can be addressed efficiently and with sensitivity. It can be a good thing for your counsel to have this opportunity to speak freely to the judge handling your case.
- You’ll likely have to come back. It is rare that you only have one court appearance in a family law matter. There are several mandatory appearances in a litigated case. Be prepared for these.
Sandra C. Fava is a partner in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in its Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Sandra at 973.994.7564 or firstname.lastname@example.org.