For some people, the idea of having to go into a courtroom for a contested legal hearing is about the least fun-sounding activity imaginable. I was told by a colleague as a young attorney that the key to courtroom success is feeling comfortable. Almost like you are in your backyard and everyone else is coming to visit you on your home turf. This is a hard enough lesson to learn and to embody for a young attorney not to mention an inexperienced person who has never truly stepped foot in a courtroom before. It is unrealistic to think that you will feel comfortable in a courtroom especially when the stakes are high in a family law case.
When you sign up for a family law case you do so only because you have no other choice. Nobody signs up for a family law case and thinks to themselves that this is going to be a fun time. Rather, what most people think about as they begin a family law case is that they hope that they can accomplish whatever goals they have in their relatively short period without spending too much money. The negative thoughts about family law cases only increase when you consider that there is a possibility that the disputes in your case will require a trip to court.
Going to court may as well be climbing a mountain. For most of us, climbing a mountain sounds like an unbelievably difficult task and one that requires a great deal of planning and forethought to accomplish. It is possible that you could theoretically wander to the base of a tall mountain and then begin climbing. However, if you want to make it down the other side in one piece you need to have a plan. Ideally, your plan to climb the mountain would have been concocted well before your feet ever stepped foot on the side of that rocky obstacle.
The same can be said for a family law case. When you file a family law case or respond to one you need to know that it is a possibility that you could find yourself in a courtroom sooner rather than later. This is far from a certainty and you should not look at a family law case as being a foregone conclusion that you will spend most of your case in the courtroom. However, you should plan for circumstances involving you in the courtroom and what you would do if you need to be able to defend yourself and pursue a case against your opposing party.
It doesn’t matter if you are involved in child support, child custody, divorce, CPS, or other type of family law cases. The fact remains that preparation is key and developing goals for yourself only adds to the structure of your case. If you can pursue goals with the mindset of a parent or party who is going to act intentionally then you can accomplish a lot in a family law case. However, if you wander into a family law case without a plan then you stand about as much of a chance to complete the family law case successfully as the mountain climber who wanders into the climb with no plan to ascend to the top.
With that said the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to present to you today five things not to do in a courtroom hearing. Our attorneys have been able to serve on behalf of many clients in Southeast Texas and have seen a great deal in the courtrooms of our state. As a result, we have the experience necessary to help provide you with information that can be of great service to you as you begin to learn more about the world of Texas family law. Additionally, if you get to the point where you would like to hire an attorney to represent you in a family law case, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office for a free-of-charge consultation today.
If you have not already done so we recommend looking at our YouTube page where we post information and videos daily about every subject conceivable in the world of Texas family law. Whether you are looking for information on divorce, child custody issues, modification topics, or the ins and outs of Texas child support cases then there is no better resource for you on the Internet than the YouTube page for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Look today, comment, subscribe, and let us know what you think. If you have any questions after looking over one of these videos, please call our office for a free-of-charge consultation.
#1: Show up late
The rules of the courtroom are not dissimilar from the rules of any other meeting. Your goal should be to arrive at your hearing location on time and with the materials you need for the day. If you hire an attorney to represent you in the hearing that does not necessarily mean that he or she will have all the information needed for that day’s course of events. On the contrary, you may need to bring documents, photographs, and other materials that can be used as evidence or are necessary for the hearing that day. Your attorney may have asked you to sign documents and bring them to court for several reasons. Please make sure to check with your attorney in their office before the date of your hearing to ensure that you can bring everything you need to court that day. You will not have an opportunity to run home and pick up what you have forgotten.
Next, your wardrobe matters. I think we would all agree that the type of clothes which are acceptable to be worn in our world has become more casual over time. The same cannot necessarily be said about the courtroom. You should aim to wear the type of clothes that you would wear to church, a business meeting, or any other formal gathering. I am not telling you to go out and buy a brand-new dress or suit and tie, but I am telling you that wearing a suit and tie or a nice dress if you own one would work well. At a minimum, women should aim to wear they dress or skirt of conservative length and a top that does not have a plunging neckline. Gentlemen should wear a collared shirt which can be tucked into the pants with a belt.
Be sure to turn off your cell phone before you even enter the courtroom. Many judges have their bailiffs make an announcement at the beginning of the day about the consequences of using a cell phone in the courtroom. Even if you look around and see an attorney or courtroom staff member using their cell phone do not assume that you can use yours. If you need to take a phone call or send a text message, you should leave the courtroom and then reenter when you have done what you need to do on your phone. Judges are not shy about picking cell phones up and not returning them until the end of the day if you are seen using your phone.
Talk with your attorney about the logistics of the courthouse for your county. In smaller counties, you may know exactly where the courthouse is because it is in the downtown of your quaint Texas town. You may drive past that courthouse every day, vote there, or have business there on occasion. Getting to that small-town courthouse may be easy and is something that you can do in your sleep period on the other hand, if you live in Harris County getting downtown to the courthouse can be more of an adventure. It takes time to get downtown in Houston and if you work remotely it can be a change of pace to have to get dressed, get out of the house, and then travel downtown for a hearing. All of this is done while you are under some degree of stress from your case and as a result you should plan on some logistical issues rather than assuming that everything will go smoothly as you head to court.
#2: Do not show up to court without a plan
One of the big mistakes that people make in the context of a family law case is to show up in court without a plan. This does not mean that you have to have every minute of your hearing mapped out but it does mean that you need to have goals in mind, a strategy to achieve those goals, and a game plan with your legal team. Even if you are not represented by an attorney you should have well-stated goals and a plan. In fact, not having an attorney probably puts more pressure on you to have a plan of action for your case. Wandering into a family law case without a plan is a bad idea. Rather, you should seek to take advantage of the time you have before a hearing to develop a strategy for how you want your hearing to go.
In many instances, you will have an opportunity to negotiate the case with your opposing party before your hearing. It is not uncommon for opposing sides in a family law case to go into a hallway at the courtroom before their hearing and see if there is any way to a last-minute settlement on the issues that would prevent a hearing. This would be a good idea, frankly, because you can save time and money by hammering out an agreement face-to-face rather than needing to go through an entire contested hearing and submit evidence before the judge. Nobody knows your case better than you and your opposing party and if a judge renders a better decision in your case than you will be able to negotiate can be a mistake.
#3: Do not lie
This may seem to be a rather obvious piece of advice but I think it bears mentioning for several reasons. Number one, lying in court leaves you susceptible to the laws of perjury. When you testify in the courtroom you will be placed under oath. If you are purposefully untruthful in the way that you testify this opens you up to being found in contempt of court, and violation of the laws of perjury. There are consequences to be suffered when you lie off at least fines from the court and possibly jail time.
Beyond that, there are good reasons never to lie in court beyond the potential punishments. You may find yourself back in that courtroom with the judge again at some point in your case. You do not want to leave the judge with the impression that you are dishonest or a liar. That will color how the judge views you in the future and will have an impact on your case in ways that you may not even understand. Again, helping yourself in the context of a family law case means answering questions honestly and following the advice of your attorney. Nowhere in that discussion is there anything about being untruthful.
#4: Do not show disrespect to the court
This goes back to the information given on how to dress in the courtroom. Society nowadays is more casual than it used to be. Using formal language and things of that nature are not done nearly as frequently as they used to be. As a result, we can all sometimes get a little too casual with the people that we interact with daily. When that happens, there are usually no consequences other than a person may be thinking that we should have approached a conversation differently. However, when you are in a courtroom there is always the potential for a judge admonishing you for the way that you spoke to him or her.
It is best to refer to a judge as your honor. Sometimes attorneys will fall into the habit of calling a judge “Judge” instead of your honor. Most judges do not have a problem with this, but I would not recommend you try it. Certainly, taking an attitude or being short with a judge when asked a question is not wise. Judges tend to have long memories and the way that you treat a judge in your first hearing can impact how the judge views you in subsequent hearings. Your ability to be truthful, objective, and rational in the way you approach your case will likely have an impact on the overall outcome of your case. This is not to say that a judge will view you strictly through how you speak to him or her and not through the evidence. However, judges are human, and we are all prone to perceiving others based on how we were spoken to by him or her. The bottom line is you should treat the court with respect and respect will be shown back to you.
#5: Do not show up to court without speaking to your attorney
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan pride ourselves on being able to provide our clients with top-notch legal services and representation. Part of that is always being willing to communicate well with our clients despite whatever may be going on in our other cases and our personal lives. We are committed to you as a client, and we make the same promise to every client that we will serve you like we would serve a member of our own family.
With that said, it is not unheard of for a family law attorney to try to come to court without ever even having met a client personally. In this day and age when so much can be done virtually as far as meetings and contract signings you may be in a position where you have never personally met the attorney representing you in your hearing. Or you may find yourself in a position where the attorney that you met with in your consultation will not be the same attorney attending court with you.
In whatever situation you may find yourself in, you can and should ask your attorney’s office to allow you to meet with the attorney who will be attending court with you before the hearing itself. This way you can discuss strategy, begin to build a rapport with the attorney, and go over any questions that the attorney may have for you. This will increase your chances of success in the hearing and will eliminate a lot of the butterflies and nervousness that are common in an important event like a courtroom appearance.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody lawsuit.