Here is a list of things that you should not say (or do) in a family court:
- Things that reflect you are venting your anger
- Things that make you sound tutored and rehearsed
- Redundant information and statements that sound like your opinions
- Lies and exaggerated statements
- Disrespectful language for the other spouse
1. Don’t Vent Your Anger
Don’t demonize the other spouse by describing him/her as a sociopath, narcissist, unfit, cruel, etc., even when you have submitted solid evidence to back up your claims. Stick to the facts and be calm. If you have the evidence, and if your hostility makes you badmouth your spouse in the courts or use foul language, then the judge may perceive that you are a very hostile and aggressive person. If you do not have the evidence, the courts may perceive that you are the problem in the marriage. And, if you keep arguing with the judge, he/she may hold you in contempt.
Calling names and showing unwarranted aggressiveness and an overdose of hostility may provoke the judge to penalize you for violating court etiquette. He may consider you an unstable and untrustworthy person.
Do not ever butt in when the judge is speaking.
When you are accused of something, don’t get angry and make excuses for your behavior. Don’t start sentences with phrases/words like “I think,” “by the way,” “always,” “never,” “to tell you the truth,” and other such words. Words like these sound either casual, vague, or exaggerated. Instead, counter the accusations with facts.
2. Don’t Sound Tutored and Rehearsed
Sounding rehearsed as though you are acting in a play when being questioned in court can make you look like a fake and frivolous person to the judge. The judge may easily figure out your rehearsed testimony, and he/she may think that you have memorized all the lines and are hiding the truth.
So, sound natural in courts like you would in a conversation at work or with friends – but without the casual tone.
3. Don’t Give Your Opinions and Redundant Information
While answering a question, give only as much information as is required to answer the question precisely. While answering, stick to the facts and do not give your opinions. If your answer contains anything that is over and above what is required, it may be used by the other spouse’s attorney against you later, at an opportune moment. Moreover, giving redundant information or making minor accusations (which don’t matter) to the courts may irritate the judge. Minor accusations include accusing your spouse of forgetting your birthday, being late to your child’s birthday, or keeping you waiting (even though your spouse had genuine reasons), etc.
4. Don’t Lie or Exaggerate
Your family law attorney may have already coached you about appropriate court etiquette. He/she, for sure, would have told you not to lie or exaggerate in the courts. If you lie, you may be charged with perjury. If you mislead the courts or exaggerate, the judge will consider you an insincere petitioner/defendant. Experienced judges can easily figure out when witnesses lie or exaggerate.
If you are honest, frank, and truthful, the judge will appreciate it. If not, he/she may doubt your version of events.
5. Don’t Disrespect the Opposite Side
Always speak in a calm and respectful tone, and do not curse. Ensure that your body language is composed and your appearance is presentable. These are small things but they help in giving the impression that you take your divorce case seriously and care about the court proceedings.
Signs of disrespect include throwing your hands up in the air in exasperation, mocking, rolling your eyes, mocking the other spouse’s statements, and interrupting his/her attorney. Such an attitude can irritate the judge.
EXTRA: Tips that may help you in family law court:
- Address the judge as “your honor” or “sir/ma’am.”
- Start sentences with facts, not opinions.
- Raise your hand if you want to say something instead of interrupting.
- If you do not agree with the judge’s opinion, let your attorney know instead of countering it verbally in front of the judge.
- Don’t jump from one topic to the next. First, finish what you started.
- You’re in the courts to convince the judge about your case, not to impress him with flowery language or your opinions. That tells you a lot about what you should or should not do.
- Make sure that the documents that you have filed in the courts are complete and that all relevant facts are included there.
- Your attorney will coach you on how to behave and speak in court – follow his/her advice in letter and spirit.