If you are going through a divorce or child custody case, you will need to go through the family law court system. If you are representing yourself with the assistance of a legal resource group, there are some basics you should know to help your case go as smoothly as possible.
With any family law case, there is going to be a lot of paperwork. You will need to complete your documents correctly and file them on time. If you are the one filing for divorce, you will need to have your spouse served in the way that is allowed in your state. If your spouse or ex-spouse has filed a claim against you, you will need to answer by the date on the form. (Don’t think that by refusing to answer you can stop the divorce from occurring; it will simply go on without your input!)
In addition, you’ll likely need to fill out financial forms and submit various documentation. Your legal resource group can help you keep track of what you need to submit by which date. They can also help you fill out the documents if you aren’t sure how to do so. The most important things are that they are accurate and filed on time.
Settling Your Case
The vast majority of divorce and child custody cases do not go to trial. Instead, most are settled out of court, sometimes with the help of a mediator. It might seem as though you and your soon-to-be-ex can’t get along long enough to settle, but most of the time, you won’t disagree on everything, so you will have some sort of a starting point. You might agree, for example, that each of you will keep your own cars and that the spouse who makes more will pay child support.
You might agree that you will both keep joint physical and legal custody of the children but disagree on who gets the kids on which days. This is the type of disagreement that you can usually compromise on to settle on a fair solution that is in the best interests of the children. For example, if one of you lives a mile from the school and one lives 20 miles away, it might make more sense for the children to stay at the closer parent’s house on school nights, and the extra time can be made up with the other parent on school breaks, weekends, and over the summer. A mediator or your legal resource group can help you set up a parenting plan that works.
Other common points that divorcing couples might disagree on include who gets the house (or what the payoff will be for the spouse that is not keeping the house), how much child support will be paid, who will pay for what when it comes to the children, and so on. In most cases, these sticking points can be settled out of court.
If You Do Go to Court
In the unlikely event that you do need to go to court, it is important that you are able to state your case clearly while making a good impression on the judge. You will need to understand basic courtroom procedure and know when you can and cannot speak. It is also important to keep your emotions out of the case as much as you can; someone who can maintain composure will likely have a better result than someone who makes angry outbursts or bursts into tears several times.
What to Wear to Court
Part of making a good impression in court is knowing what to wear and how to present yourself. First, you will want to wear clothing that shows respect for the court. This means clean, well-maintained clothing that fits properly. Do not wear anything too tight or too baggy. Do not wear jeans, a t-shirt, sweatpants, yoga pants, a tank top, or other clothing that you might wear around the house on a weekend.
Instead, men should wear long pants with a belt and a button-down or polo shirt. They should also wear dress shoes, though clean black sneakers will do if that is all you have. If you must wear jeans, they should be dark, fit well, and be clean and unwrinkled.
Women should wear long pants or a skirt, a blouse, and sensible shoes. Flats or pumps with a short heel are appropriate; sandals and stilettos are not. Limit yourself to one or two tasteful accessories such as a pair of earrings, a scarf, or a bracelet.
If your hair is dyed an unnatural color, consider dyeing it back to something that looks more natural. Also, don’t style your hair in a way that is designed to get attention. Wear your hair neatly and out of your face. Long hair can be pulled back or left loose, as long as it is under control and not flying around or getting in your face.
Do not chew gum, use your cell phone, interrupt the judge, or speak without being addressed. When your spouse is talking, don’t answer or provide a rebuttal unless asked to. Always address the judge as “your honor,” and do not swear or use coarse language; be on your best behavior and speak politely. Know in advance which documents you might need to provide and have them with you. Keep them organized and unwrinkled. In short, you want your case to go smoothly and without chaos, so you will need to prepare in advance.
Knowing what to expect in family court and acting appropriately are two things that will help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Your case manager at National Family Solutions can help you learn all that you can about your upcoming case. He or she can help you maintain your paperwork, file your documents properly, and represent yourself in court. Your future and the future of your children depend on your preparation, so be ready to put some time and effort into learning what you should do and how you should present yourself.