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Sit up straight, tuck in your shirt and act like a grown-up when you’re in court

This is sort of an awkward topic to write about, I'll be upfront about that. For the most part, this blog is dedicated to providing information for you from the perspective of a family law attorney. The advice that I share tends to focus on family law, divorce, the courts in southeast Texas and general advice that hopefully pertains to your life. I can’t get too personal because 1) I’m not positioned to peer into your life and see what’s going on, and 2) it’s just not something an adult should do with another adult. Your life is your life and mine is mine. Telling another adult how to behave is sort of weird.

Today I’m going to venture into the weird. How you act has consequences. You probably have already figured that out. It’s something that your parents likely have told you and that you have told your own children. We emphasize this with our kids day in and day out in hopes that they learn how to conduct themselves as an individual and as part of a community. We want our neighbors to be people who care for their families, work, pay taxes and generally make positive contributions to their surroundings.

Today’s blog post topic will primarily center on how to act when you are in court. I hope that much of what I have write about today will be well known to most of you. If you are learning something new then I hope that what I am about to tell you can positively impact your experience within your divorce case but also help you in your day to day life. Make no mistake- a courthouse is not like most places that you visit on a daily basis and there are specific ways that you should and should not act.

Be on time- above all else

Most courts in and around Harris County call their dockets beginning at 9:00 a.m. Some judges are more punctual than others- such is their right as the judge. You do not have the right to be late to your hearing. If your lawyer tells you that your hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. it is not fair to your attorney, your spouse, or anyone else who will be in that courtroom for you roll in at 9:20. Rather than get to court twenty minutes late I would suggest that you try to arrive 20 minutes early. We all have smartphones nowadays- play a game on your phone or read the news if you arrive early.

If you have to go to court for a hearing that does not mean that you will necessarily have to go before the judge. Attorneys will spend a great deal of time prior to the start of your hearing attempting to negotiate with the other side if both clients are present. Your attorney cannot negotiate on your behalf without you being there to give your approval or disapproval of any negotiation method. This means that you need to be available and on time. You will ruin any chance of your case settling before the hearing begins if you are late.

The next thing you need to think about in terms of your ability to arrive on time is that if you arrive late and the judge has placed other hearings in front of yours it can happen that the judge does not reach you and your spouse that day. This means your hearing will need to be re-set to a different day where hopefully you all will have your case heard. You will need to then take another day off from work and have to explain to your boss that you will be out of the office again. This could have been avoided had you woken up earlier or taken whatever steps you need to in order to arrive on time.

Finally, your attorney will likely want to spend some time with you going over any last minute details with you in regard to your hearing prior to the process actually starting. Hopefully you will have been able to prepare for your hearing with your attorney prior to showing up in court but if not, then the time before your hearing is set to begin offers a final opportunity to do so. Don’t leave your attorney sitting alone outside the courtroom waiting for you to arrive.

Dress for success

Nobody is going to demand that you buy a new outfit for court. This isn’t going to be a fashion show. However, there is a difference between dressing well for a date and dressing well for court. It is imperative that you look the part of a person who is going to step in front of a judge. While everyone reading this is operating on a different budget I can pretty safely say that most of you have the ability to dress professionally without much effort.

For men, jeans or slacks are fine with a tucked in shirt. There is no need to wear a suit but that wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world if you own one. Again- do not go out and buy anything unless you have absolutely no pants or collared shirts to wear. Even then, nobody is asking you to dress like a lawyer. I am asking you to consider that how you dress and how you look does have an effect on how you are perceived. Your judge will be judging you in part by how you conduct and present yourself.

For women, wearing dresses and skirts are fine but remember that you are not going out for a night on the town in that dress. Keep the more “fun” outfits at home for evenings out. Skirts should not be more than an inch or so above your knees and heels should be moderately high at the most. Wearing super high heels, short skirts and the like can be distracting to a judge- male or female. From my experience it is women’s fashion choices that catch the eye of people in court more-so than men. While this may be desirable outside of court, it is not what you are going for as a litigant. Dress like you are headed to a job interview or church.

What to do when on the witness stand

If your case actually makes it to a hearing you will be expected to testify in most situations. This not anything to lose sleep over but it is important that you know how to act and what to do if this should happen. First of all, don’t think of this as a public speaking exhibition. It is true that you are in public and will be speaking but the courtroom will not be hanging on your every word. Anyone besides you, your spouse, your attorneys and the judge will not be paying all that close of attention. Hopefully this will make you feel a little more at ease when it comes to having to testify.

Next, when you are being asked a question by either attorney you should speak up and be clear in your response. We have a tendency to speed up our speech when we are nervous and do not generally have to raise our voice above a conversational level when talking. The judge will appreciate your being loud and clear enough in your responses. It is frustrating to have to remind a witness to speak up and slow down after each of their answers.

Answering questions is a process

Before you answer a question from either attorney you should stop and think a few thoughts in the seconds immediately following the question. I should start off by saying that even if you know the question that you are being asked it is best that you wait for the attorney to finish asking their question before jumping in to give a response. I know this is something that we commonly do in our day to day lives but it is not something you should do in court. The judge and the court reporter will not be able to hear both you and the attorney over one another if you constantly are stepping on the questions being asked of you.

After the attorney has finished their question I will advise clients to do the following in their heads before opening their mouths. First of all, you need to actually understand the question that is being asked of you. Believe it or not attorneys will ask bad questions that are non-sensical, rambling or just not very coherent. You are not expected to make sense of our ramblings. It is completely fine to ask an attorney- be it your own attorney or your spouse’s attorney- to rephrase or ask the question a different way. It is not assumed that you are stupid or anything like that. It happens all the time. Don’t be bashful- speak up and ask the lawyer to rephrase their question if you are in doubt.

Next, once you believe that you understand that question that is being asked I would recommend that you consider whether or not you know the answer to the question. This is sort of a silly thing to type but stick with me. A lot of times when we are asked a question that we are not completely sure of the correct response we will say something nonetheless. Essentially, our response could boil down to- Yea, I’m not exactly sure but I think that…This is the way we would answer a friend or co-worker if asked a question in casual conservation that we were not entirely sure of the correct response.

This is not a good strategy in court. Answering a question just because you believe that it will make you look silly if you do not provide a response is a bad plan. Remember that you have taken an oath to tell the truth. If you do not believe that an answer that you are given is completely truthful then you should not give a response. Furthermore, your guess at an answer will be something that you are held responsible for when it comes to the judge’s perceptions of your case. If it seems like you are not sure of anything that you are saying your credibility will diminish with the judge.

The other side of the coin on this subject is that if you are not sure of the answer to a question it is perfectly ok for you to say that you don’t know the answer or are not sure. Speculating is not a good idea, and can cause your opposing attorney to object to your response as being speculation. The judge wants you to testify to things that you have actual knowledge about. Guessing wildly will not serve any positive purpose for you or your case. Remember that you and your attorney are trying to provide evidence to a judge that will allow him or her to rule in your favor on whatever issues are being contested. Don’t give the judge any reason to second guess your credibility.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding Divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our Divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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