If you are like most people, going to court makes you nervous. You don’t know what you are supposed to do, what you are supposed to wear, or even how you are supposed to act. Watching Divorce Court or other TV shows isn’t much help either. Real life is not at all like what you see on television. While every court operates differently, there are some things that will be the same no matter which court you are going to.
If you have to go to court – with or without a lawyer – here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Find out what to expect before you go. Knowing how the court works and what is likely to happen when you are there will help you feel less like a train wreck once you are in the court room. How do you know what to expect? If you have lawyer, ask him/her. If you are going it alone, talk to others who have been to court before. Or, if you can, try to go to court on a day when your case is NOT scheduled, just so you can watch and see how the court room works.
2. Be prepared. Bring all of your paperwork with you. If your lawyer told you to bring something to court, bring it. If your lawyer or a judge told you to do something before you come to court, do it.
3. Dress appropriately. Court rooms are formal places. While few judges these days will kick you out if you are not dressed appropriately, judges are still human. What you wear matters. If you are not sure what to wear to court, check out: What to Wear and What NOT to Wear to Court.
4. Be in the right place at the right time. That means you need to get to the right court house, and the right court room at least 10 minutes BEFORE you are scheduled to be there.
5. Plan extra time to get through security. Every court house these days has security. Sometimes the lines to get through security are pretty long. (Think airport.) Leave yourself time to get through the line and still get to your court room on time.
6. Leave your kids at home. Divorce court is no place for children. Period. Besides, most judges will not allow children under the age of 18 in the court room. So, unless your lawyer or the judge specifically asked you to bring your kids to court for some reason, don’t bring them to court with you.
7. Turn your cell phone off. Nothing is as distracting (or annoying) to a judge who is in the middle of a hearing than a ringing cell phone! There used to be a judge in Cook county who had a sign on her court room door that said: “Anything that beeps, buzzes or rings will be confiscated.” That kind of says it all.
8. Don’t talk, eat, read, or text in court. A court room is kind of like a library, but with a sheriff to enforce the rules. So, whatever you can’t do in a library, you can’t do in court. (You also usually can’t text in court either, even though that’s ok in a library.)
9. If you need moral support, bring a friend. Courts are public places. So, if you want to bring a friend, you can. Just don’t bring your new “special friend” (a/k/a boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other) to divorce court. That’s just asking for trouble.
10. Keep control over your emotions. There is no quicker way to lose your argument or your case than to lose control over your emotions. Yes, you will be dealing with issues that are very important and very personal to you. But make up your mind BEFORE you walk into the court room that YOU, not your EMOTIONS, will be in charge.
Unless you are a lawyer, going to court is never going to be fun. But, if you know what to expect, and you do what you need to do, in the way that you need to do it, you can get through the experience positively.
Karen Covy is an experienced Chicago divorce attorney, mediator, educator, and collaborative lawyer. She is the author of: When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally. Karen can be reached at (312)236-1670 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view her website at www.karencovy.com.