Many divorces are settled, but if you can’t resolve all of your issues between yourselves, you can have a judge resolve them for you. If you do go to trial, preparation and etiquette are key. Their lack could cost you in terms of credibility and even affect your settlement.
Here are nine tips to keep in mind:
1. Don’t go without a lawyer. You’re intelligent, savvy and may have experience negotiating tough deals. What you don’t have is legal knowledge, and that could cost you in terms of results if you go it alone. Moreover, divorce attorneys know court procedures and etiquette, which are more important than you may realize. Finally, it’s difficult to argue effectively when emotions are high — and they will be. You will almost certainly get better results if you have a good lawyer.
2. Meet with your lawyer about the trial ahead of time. Perhaps the most important predictor of success at trial is preparation. Your attorney will walk you through what to expect and explain what information you need to touch upon in your testimony.
3. Keep all your demands reasonable. Negotiations often start with a request for more than you think you’ll get. In court, you are more likely to get what seems reasonable to the judge. If you appear unreasonable, the judge may rule against you altogether.
4. Have all your paperwork ready. Be able to say what you want and why you want it — and back it up with documentation and evidence. Be ready to answer any reasonable questions from the judge.
5. Dress appropriately. It may not seem fair, but judges do have unconscious biases that could work against you. Your dress should acknowledge your respect for the court and avoid raising any questions. Ideally, dress in clean, neat business attire.
6. Turn off your cellphone before you enter the courtroom. A ringing cellphone will draw the judge’s attention in a negative way. Any use of a cellphone will generally be seen as disrespectful and distracting to the judge. It will not be appreciated.
7. Be polite to the court clerk and courtroom personnel. Clerks, bailiffs and other court personnel are not faceless minions but the judge’s trusted assistants. Being disrespectful toward them could anger the judge and negatively affect their opinion of you.
8. Keep quiet unless the judge speaks to you. Your lawyer should handle all communication with the judge unless you are testifying. If you have questions, write them down for your attorney. Never interrupt the judge.
9. Keep calm. Regardless of its justification, anger is not your friend in court. Judges typically respond best to a calm, reasoned approach.