What to Do and Expect When Going to Court
Going to court may likely be a new experience for those going through a divorce. It is imperative that you look and act the part, feel as comfortable as you can, and prepare yourself to stand your ground with your abusive spouse.
Here is what to expect.
Get a good night’s sleep. Get a good night’s sleep before your court appearance. You will need to be calm and clear headed on your court date.
Get some coaching from your attorney beforehand. Have a coaching session with your attorney beforehand if you are nervous about how you will come across in court.
Bring an organized folder of all important documents. Bring a well-organized accordion file with a copy of all the important documents to court with you, just in case there is something that your attorney is missing. Also, bring a notepad and pen to take notes and to write your attorney a message in court if one is needed. Be sure to let your attorney know immediately if something is said in court that is untrue or if the attorney gets some facts or dates wrong—but do it quietly.
Don’t bring friends or relatives to the courthouse. Do not bring friends or relatives for support as they may make you nervous and you do not want to be distracted. If they offer to come, please say no thank you and be firm about it.
Avoid proximity to your spouse in the hall or waiting room to prevent conflicts. If he insists on arguing with you, call security. If your attorney is not there when you get to court, he or she may have other cases scheduled close to the same time. When your case is called, let the bailiff or court clerk know. They will call the attorney or postpone the court date.
Everything that happens in the courtroom will be documented. A court stenographer will be present who will transcribe everything that is said, although some cases are tape recorded rather than transcribed. Your first court appearance may not be in front of a judge, but rather a matrimonial referee, a law clerk, or another court-appointed person. As they are acting in an official capacity, be as courteous and truthful with them as you would be with the judge.
Understand trial terminology and course of events in the courtroom.
At trial, each attorney makes an opening statement, which is a summary of the case. The plaintiff’s attorney then calls witnesses to testify and presents evidence. If you filed for divorce, then you are the plaintiff. In some states, this individual is called by a different term.
Opposing counsel then cross-examines the plaintiff’s witnesses. Afterward, opposing counsel calls the defendant’s (your husband’s, if you are the one who filed) witnesses and presents evidence. Then the plaintiff’s attorney has the right to cross-examine them.
Closing statements will then presented in court by each attorney. These state what each side is requesting in the divorce and how they want the judge to rule. Make sure that your attorney has your wishes spelled out in writing, and preferably typed, as those notes may be incorporated into the divorce decree.
The final decision/verdict may not be instantaneous. Most judges do not tell you their decision at the trial. You may have to wait several weeks for a final decision on the divorce settlement. Your attorney may then have to file additional paperwork to get the divorce finalized.
Whether or not to pursue an appeal. If there is an appeal, only issues of law, not issues of fact, will be reviewed. An appellate court can only decide if the trial court applied the law properly. You have a certain period in which to file an appeal, so let your attorney know if you think that the decision was wrong or unfair as soon as possible after you read the decision. Appeals are lengthy and expensive, so get a realistic idea from your attorney as to whether you should pursue one.
General Court Guidelines
Be prompt. Make sure that you are always on time for appointments with your attorney, the mediator, and especially for court appearances. Allow ample time for traffic issues, finding the location (including getting lost), parking, and passing through a security line at the door to the court. Security is a lot like airport screening.
Dress the part. Wear conservative clothing, such as a simple dress or a nice jacket and skirt. Dress modestly. Jeans and shorts are not respectful of the court or the gravity of the situation. Go easy on the makeup and jewelry. Cover up any tattoos and only wear one pair of pierced earrings at a time. Remove nose rings and ear cuffs. If you don’t have a nice outfit and don’t have the money to buy one, go to a used clothing store. You don’t want to look too affluent, but you do want to look presentable and respectful. The judge, who may be an older and conservative person, may be affected by your appearance and demeanor.
Be respectful. You want the judge to be on your side. Address the judge directly as “Your Honor.” Stand whenever the judge stands and when the judge is giving a decision or order regarding your case. Answer only “Yes, sir/Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir/No ma’am” to yes or no questions.
Do not guess. If you don’t know the answer, say, “I don’t know.” or “I don’t remember.” A guess might be misconstrued as a lie.
Short answers. When you are questioned on the witness stand, keep your answers short and to the point. Answer only the question that was asked. Do not try to be helpful by elaborating your answer as you could hurt your case in doing so poorly. If you bring up other issues in your answer, you may hurt your case. The judge could perceive you as wasting the court’s time.
Follow the rules. Only speak when asked a question. Never interrupt the judge. Pass a note or whisper quietly if you must communicate with your attorney while you are in the courtroom— which is only if there is something important you need to tell him or her.
No drama. Stay calm and do not get emotional on the stand. Do not let your husband’s attorney goad you into losing your temper.
Tell the truth. If you don’t, it will cost you. Committing perjury is a felony, and you could end up with a substantial fine and jail time if you lie under oath.
Breaking Bonds is dedicated to your specific needs as an abused woman, and we offer free holistic support as well as practical guidance to help you through this difficult time. Download the free 11 STEP PREP Guide here to get started, grab a copy of Breaking Bonds: How To Divorce and Abuser & Heal, and check out our full list of resources for complete support during the process of your divorce. We are with you.
Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over 35 years of experience, and the founder of Breaking Bonds, a comprehensive resource platform for abused women. Although her professional expertise is in financial matters, her perspective on marital abuse, divorce, and recovery is deeply heartfelt and holistic. She draws on decades of personal experience, as well as the experiences of others, to help inform abused spouses so that they will become empowered to leave their abusers and begin to heal.
Rosemary Lombardy's new book, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal - A Survival Guide is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere that sells books.