Practical tips on what to do when you go to family law court.
Most of our clients spend some time in court at the Temporary Order Hearings in King County or Snohomish County Superior Court. For many of our clients, this is usually the first time they’ve appeared in front of a judicial officer in Washington State. Almost all of them, if they would admit it, are pretty darn scared. We are repeatedly told, “I don’t know what to do when I go to family law court.” If this is how you feel, you are not alone. We are asked, “How should I dress? What I should do?” Here’s some answers.
What is a temporary order hearing?
A temporary order hearing is a procedure where your attorney or and the opposing attorney make arguments in a courtroom to a judge. After hearing the arguments, a judge or commissioner makes an instant decision on how much of your income you are going to keep until trial, how much your spouse will get, who will pay attorney’s fees until trial, and where your children will reside and who will pay whom child support. Almost all temporary order hearings are decided by a commissioner and not a judge. In short, the commissioner decides fundamentally everything in your life. A bad temporary order hearing can be devastating for your case. This means you need to do everything in your power to be prepared.
What do I need to do to be prepared for the court hearing?
Here’s a summary of what to do when you go to family law court. Give the critical importance of the temporary hearing, it’s important that both you and your attorney are completely prepared for the hearing itself. Most judges have already decided who will get what before you even stand in front of them for your hearing. Although no judicial officer will admit it, judges make snap decisions about people based on what they do, how they look, what they say, or what their relatives say in court.
Why your job is to look boring and uninteresting.
You should be as conservatively dressed as is humanely possible. You want to look professional. If you are a man, you should be wearing a suit. You should be properly groomed. You should be cleanly shaven with your hair trimmed. If you have long hair, do your best to keep it neat and tidy. We recommend you get a haircut. If you have a beard or mustache, it must be trimmed. We recommend that you seriously consider shaving the beard before the actual hearing. If you do not have a suit, wear slacks and a button down shirt. Absolutely do not wear t-shirts, shorts, or jeans.
Women should wear a full dress or female business suit. You should wear makeup but not excessively. Do not dress too provocatively as doing so is extremely risky. Sometimes it works in a client’s favor, but when it doesn’t it can get you in real trouble fast. Keep it classy.
How to behave while in the courtroom.
As George Clooney said, “You look down, they know you’re lying and up, they know you don’t know the truth. Don’t use seven words when four will do. Don’t shift your weight, look always at your mark but don’t stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don’t make him laugh. He’s got to like you then forget you the moment you’ve left his side.” You want to stand up straight and keep your arms to your sides. Facial expressions are everything: you should not stare, roll your eyes, or fidget. Do not look angry, upset, unhappy, disrespectful, scornful, sanctimonious, or incredulous. In short, control your emotions. Admittedly, this is extremely difficult for anyone. Your whole life is on the line. Your emotions are running twice what they are normally running. You are scared and your heart is beating over 120 bpm. No question, you are nervous. If you aren’t, then you are over confident. However, you must appear confident and relaxed.