For many people, their first time in a courtroom is at a divorce or child custody hearing. Whether you have representation or not, this new experience can be nerve-wracking. Here, you will learn how to feel more comfortable through adequate preparation and planning to have greater success when your court date comes.
The most significant thing to remember for your court hearing is that the more preparation you do, the less stressed you will be and, usually, the better outcome you get. Adequate preparation will also make you feel more confident, which is particularly important in a courtroom environment.
Prepare by obtaining legal advice from someone qualified and experienced in family law. This will help you learn what to expect and get you heading in the right direction. It would help if you also prepared with self-help. Learn as much as you can about the laws in Colorado and your courtroom. Useful resources include the State Judicial Website, the Lexis State Statutes Website, legal books and articles, our firm's website, etc. Getting yourself familiar with the laws that will govern your case will be crucial to your preparation.
Next, you should begin preparing the documents and information you need to present your case. In a divorce, this will include detailed financial statements, and if you have children, documents about them as well. It is also important to read everything you receive from opposing counsel or your spouse. You should take notes as the case goes to keep handy when you go to court.
Lastly, you must keep track of court deadlines. Once your case begins, everything will have a scheduled deadline, including when documents can be submitted to the court or sent to opposing counsel, when you need to appear in court, etc. Keep careful track of every deadline to ensure you do not miss anything.
2. Be Organized
Once you have prepared for your hearing, you should organize everything you anticipate you will need on the court day. Ensure all the documents the judge may require, including your Sworn Financial Statement and 16.2 Disclosures. You should also have multiple copies of these documents if the opposing counsel and the judge wish to have them. These documents should be easily accessible and organized so that you are not fumbling around at the hearing.
3. Plan Your Evidence
Whether you are represented by a lawyer or are representing yourself, you are held to the standard of a licensed attorney in the courtroom. This means you need to familiarize yourself with the court rules, including rules of procedure, evidence, how to introduce documents and evidence, and how to testify properly. Many judges also have unique rules for their courtroom, so you should also be familiar with those.
It is also crucial to know what documents and information you need to prove your case and prepare them. If you plan on having witnesses testify on your behalf, you need to make sure they are available, ready, and prepared for potential delays in the day. You should also plan by outlining the questions you plan on asking each witness, as each should bring something new to your case.
Finally, you should be adequately prepared to provide the judge with everything they need to know about your case. For example, if you have a custody dispute, know what information the judge will need to make the order you want.
4. Look Your Best
You should wake up early, eat a good breakfast, and ensure your documents are organized and ready the morning of your hearing. Ensuring you have plenty of time in the morning will alleviate stress.
Next, it is important to look your best, which means knowing what to wear. When you go to a court hearing, you should dress like you are going to a job interview. That means no tank tops or t-shirts, no sandals or jeans, nothing political or controversial, and nothing too revealing. Neutral and darker colors like blacks, browns, and tans convey credibility and establish a better rapport with the court rather than bright and flashy colors. Also, make sure to keep your hair looking professional, including beards.
You should also make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the courthouse. While court sometimes has a habit of running late, it is crucial you are on time and ready to go because if you miss your case being called, you risk being sanctioned or even having your case thrown out. Courthouses can be difficult to navigate, so getting there early to find your courtroom is important. Once you find your courtroom, you should check in with the clerk or find your lawyer so they can check you in. Additionally, if you have any witnesses scheduled to appear, you should ensure they are present or coming when scheduled. Once you are in the courtroom, your phone should be turned off, and you should not have anything that may be distracting.
5. Be Focused
The best way to remain focused is to make arrangements for the other aspects of your life, like work, children, and pets. Make sure to call off work the day of your hearing and, if you have children, arrange for daycare, drop-offs, pick-ups, etc. You should also plan for pet care, like doggy daycare or a dog walker, if your hearing is delayed or runs later than anticipated. Getting everything else sorted beforehand will allow you to stay focused on your hearing without any unnecessary stress.
6. Be Flexible and Respectful
Finally, you should remember to be flexible and respectful in court. No matter how much you prepare for your hearing, you should be ready for the unexpected. Things may go great, or they may go badly; regardless, you will need to remain composed in the courtroom. Hope for the best but plan for less by getting a ride home or making plans with friends afterward.
When present at your hearing, it is crucial to respect everyone you interact with, especially the judge. The judge, for example, should be addressed as "your honor" whenever spoken to. Listen to the judge's questions as they may be interested in information beyond what you prepared to present. If you are asked a question, you should answer to the point and directly while speaking clearly and calmly. Do not interrupt others when they are speaking, and know you will have a chance to respond.
Family court proceedings can be emotionally charged, so it is equally important to keep your cool no matter what happens. Do not let your ex-spouse, their lawyer, or the judge provoke you into a tantrum. It is completely acceptable to show emotion and be human in the courtroom; people frequently cry in court. However, letting the stress take over or letting your ex-spouse get into your head will not help your case, so ask the judge for a break if this does occur. Lastly, try to keep in mind your end goals, both for you, your ex-spouse, and your children. Do not disparage your ex-spouse in the courtroom, but instead focus on putting on the best case you can for those particular goals.
Please contact our office if you would like to speak further with an experienced family attorney about your upcoming court date.