Your divorce or custody hearing is coming up. You and your lawyer have reviewed the facts, written the motion or complaint, and prepared for trial. Now it is time to go before the judge. How can you make a good impression? Here are 10 things to avoid that will make you lose credibility in family court.
When you are going through a divorce or fighting for custody of your child, court hearings must be a priority. All too often, parties arrive late to court and show up with excuses. This damages your credibility, making it seem like you do not care about your case. Get to court early so you are ready when the judge calls your case. If something does come up, like an accident, illness, or an unpredictable Michigan snowstorm, contact your family law attorney right away so that they can explain your absence to the court.
The way you look when you appear before a family court judge says a lot about the level of respect you give to the proceedings. You may wear jeans and even shorts to work, however in the courtroom, casual clothing demonstrates a lack of importance or priority placed on the proceedings. You don’t necessarily need to put on a suit, but you should dress appropriately to show respect to the judge.
Substance use and abuse are at the heart of many family court matters. When your ex-partner is claiming substance abuse issues during the relationship (especially if they say it affected your children), you have to be especially aware of how your appearance and/or behavior in court might be perceived, based on these allegations. Abstain from alcohol or drug use while your court case is pending. Be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before the hearing, and show up awake and alert for court. This shows you are responsible and can control your impulses, contrary to what your ex-spouse may claim.
Credibility is not formed solely in the courtroom. Often, a family court case hinges on how well what you say on the stand matches what you’ve put out on social media, or in text messages with your ex-spouse. Avoid discussing your case or posting about drinking, drugs, or other behavior that could negatively affect a judge’s opinion on custody or fault-based issues. Do what you can to keep anything you write or type (including text messages) clean and positive. If you have concerns about your ability to follow these simple guidelines, perhaps you should consider refraining from social media use or text message communications with the opposing party during pending litigation.
You may be understandably nervous about showing up to court and want to bring a loved one for moral support. In many cases, especially where there has been a history of dominance, control, or domestic violence, a support person is appropriate. However, unless they are a witness, avoid bringing your new boyfriend or girlfriend to court. This will only antagonize your ex-spouse, and could lend credibility to their claims about the role your new partner plays in your children’s lives.
Family court is an emotional place. It deals with failed relationships and personal details in public view. If the opposing party’s lawyer makes outrageous claims about you, you should expect to get upset. However, losing your temper or showing visible signs of anger will only hurt your credibility with the family court judge and staff. Keep your cool and trust your lawyer. You will get your chance to tell your side of the story.
The personal nature of family law can make it tempting to use personal attacks to cut down your ex-spouse or partner. Simply put, don’t. Especially if you have children in common, your judge will be looking at your ability to work together and communicate with your spouse when deciding legal custody. Insulting your ex-spouse in court will undercut your credibility and could work against your request for custody.
Similarly, negative statements to your children about your spouse or the court case could easily destroy your credibility in family court. To the extent possible, leave your children out of it. As they grow older they may have more of an understanding of what is happening when you go to court, but they should never be put in the middle of it. Judges and Friend of the Court investigators may interview them in determining custody. If it appears you have coached your children, or tried to frame their opinion of their other parent, it will only hurt you in court.
Something has gone wrong that made you come to court. You want to make your strongest case in front of the judge, and that often means making yourself look good, and your former partner look bad. However, you should avoid going beyond what actually happened. Most family law judges have seen literally thousands of families, many with situations like yours. If you exaggerate the truth, they will know it, and it will make them question everything you say, even when you are being honest.
The single fastest way to lose credibility in family court is to argue with the judge. A family court judge is the ultimate authority in his or her courtroom. Sometimes judges make poor decisions. However, your judge will still be your judge until the case is concluded and your children are adults (unless they leave the bench). Arguing with the judge during your divorce could negatively impact their perception of you, and make your case more challenging.
At NSSSB, we want to help you put your best case before the judge. That includes protecting your credibility. Our Ann Arbor family law attorneys will help you prepare for all facets of your case, including best in-court practices and behaviors, so that you can protect your reputation, and have a more positive impact on your case. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.