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Managing a Family Law case in Texas

The piece of advice or reassurance that I provide clients with the most frequency before a courtroom appearance is that the anxiety that we all possess surrounding events that we've never experienced before has more to do with a fear of the unknown than the actual event itself.

Very rarely has someone gone to court and testified, only to tell me that the experience itself was worse than they expected. The unknown and the novel's apprehension are often the worst part of beginning a family law case for many people.

While courtroom activities will most likely not be the most significant or most important aspect of your family law case, you may have to spend some time in a courtroom for a hearing or even a trial. With that said, knowing what to expect and how to manage the emotions and stressors related to filing a family law case and appearing in court are crucial.

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, would like to share some thoughts on this subject and provide you with a general overview of how to plan for a family law case in Texas.

Heading to Court: What to expect and how to manage those expectations

Whether you need to go to court to have a full-fledged trial on your divorce or child custody case, or you and your attorney are simply appearing in front of the judge for an uncontested "prove up" hearing to conclude your case knowing how to conduct yourself in court is essential.

Dressing for Court

I always hesitate to advise other grown people on how to dress. Most people (and you can probably count yourself among this group) are more than capable of dressing themselves for any event- court included. It doesn't hurt, though, to make sure that you are aware of what is and what is not appropriate clothing to wear before stepping foot in court. After all, you can only make one first impression on a judge.

Neatness and cleanliness can make up for a lot in my experience. There is no need to go out to the mall for a new wardrobe the first time your attorney tells you that you have a court date coming up. Simply taking whatever professional clothing you have, piecing together an outfit, and then making sure that that outfit is clean can make a huge difference and save you money in the process.

If you're a man, wearing a suit is never a bad bet, but a collared shirt tucked into dress pants will do as well. Wash your shirt and pants, iron them if necessary and wear a pair of sensible and comfortable shoes. Your attorney may have told you that your hearing shouldn't last more than an hour, but they cannot control how quickly your case proceeds before the judge. You may be in court all day, and you should dress comfortably to compensate for this.

If you're a woman, a suit works just as well for you as it does for a man. Alternatively, a dress or pants/dress shirt combination works too. I will warn against wearing overly revealing clothes, tight or short. Keep your makeup and hair conservative- even if that is not your style.

Again, you don't know how your judge will react to your appearance. It could be that they would be a fan of your day-to-day hairstyle. However, it's just as likely that they would not be a fan. Play it safe in this situation.

Conducting yourself in court

As my mom would say to my sister and me countless times when she or I were taking too long to get ready to go someplace: "It's not a fashion show." Upon further review, she was right.

After all, anything is a fashion show when you are in a real-life fashion show. Everything else is showing off. This is to say that your clothes are not overly critical if you stick to the basic rules I laid down in the previous section.

The way you conduct yourself and act within the courthouse, and your judge's courtroom is another matter entirely. Your behavior is essential and can affect how a judge views you and your case.

It is critical to show respect to your attorney, your opposing party, their attorney, and all persons you come into contact with within the courthouse. I say "courthouse" and not just "courtroom" because eyes will be on you as soon as you step into the building. Act as if the judge is watching your every movement while in the courthouse.

Your courtroom will likely have a bailiff to provide this instruction to you, but I'll warn you to turn off your cell phone before getting into court. In Harris County, numerous judges will have their bailiff pick up any cell phone that goes off in their court and will hold onto it all day. This is an extreme example, but I have seen this rule enforced and is wholly avoidable.

Food, drink, chewing gum, magazines, or other "fun" items should not enter the courtroom with you. Once the judge enters the courtroom, any light talking you had been engaging in should cease, and you should be prepared to remain silent unless spoken to by your attorney or other courtroom personnel.

Speaking up when your case is called

Eventually, your case will be heard by the judge. In some counties, you and your attorney will take seats at a table in front of the judge with your opposing party and their attorney at another table next to yours. If you're familiar with TV shows that show courtroom scenes, this should be familiar to you.

In other counties, like Harris, all parties and their attorneys will stand before the bench and conduct your hearing on your feet. Remember- I warned you about comfortable shoes!

If you are being asked a question in your hearing, then it is your job to testify truthfully in a clear and loud voice to be heard by the court reporter who will be transcribing everything you say on the record. You may be a very casual person in your day-to-day life, but being formal in court is a brilliant idea. The judge is referred to as "his/her honor" or "ma'am/sir." Likewise- the opposing party isn't "Debbie," and it's "Mrs./Ms. [insert last name here]".

You may feel like the opposing party, or even the judge, is saying something that is not true or inaccurate. While this may be, you cannot interrupt someone speaking in your hearing. Have a pad of paper handy and write down your issue and show it to your attorney when they are not questioning a witness.

If you are providing an answer to a question and your attorney or opposing counsel offers an objection to the question or your response, do not say anything. The judge will need to address that objection and make a ruling. The judge will instruct you to speak again when the time is appropriate.

Come back and join us tomorrow to learn more about the ins and outs of Texas Family Law cases.

This blog post and the ones to follow cannot take the place of specific legal advice from a licensed family law attorney.

For that, I would recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today to learn more about your case. In a free-of-charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys, your questions can be answered in a comfortable environment.

Book an appointment with Law Office of Bryan Fagan using SetMore


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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. How to present yourself and testify well in court during your divorce case, Part Two
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