When people think about high-stakes court cases, they may think of trials for capital crimes or lawsuits with millions of dollars are in dispute. They don’t usually think of family court cases – at least until it’s them in family court. When it’s the assets that you and your partner have spent your marriage building being divided between you, or when it’s custody and time with your own children that are in question, there are no higher stakes. And with those stakes in mind, it can be surprisingly difficult to stay quiet and observe the formalities of court procedure when you find yourself in family court. However, angry rants and emotional outbursts, while they may look dramatic when portrayed in fictional movies and television shows – are never advisable in real family court. Such displays are likely to annoy the judge and they may even damage your case. It’s in your best interest to remain calm, patient, and professional while you’re in court. Take a look at some tips that can help you keep your cool in family court.
Educate Yourself on Court Procedures
It’s common and even advisable in many cases, to represent yourself in family court. Spending money that you don’t have on an expensive attorney may not be an option for you. And while the average person is certainly capable of learning what they need to know to represent themselves in family court, they probably need to do some work to learn that information.
When you don’t know what to expect and you’re surprised by things that are happening, you’ll end up feeling off balance and off your guard. Not only does this mean that you’re more likely to make a mistake, but it also means that you’re more likely to get angry or emotional and lash out at an inappropriate moment. When you’re confident that you know what’s coming and what you need to do next, you’re better able to control your emotions. So, it’s important to take the time to educate yourself on how family court proceedings work and what will be expected of you, including when you can speak and when you need to remain quiet. A legal resource group like National Family Services can help you to prepare yourself and your testimony and understand what to expect in family court so that you can better manage your emotions in the moment.
Practice Basic Self Care
A divorce can really mess with your head and with your inclination to take good care of yourself. But basic self-care – getting a good night’s sleep, eating regular meals, taking a hot shower – can all be things that help you center yourself and feel in control when you need to feel in control.
You may remember that when you were in school, teachers would remind you to go to bed early and eat a good breakfast before an important test, like the SAT. The same advice applies before you go to court. Don’t stay up all night reviewing your legal documents – have those filled out and ready to go well ahead of time. Don’t skip breakfast to rehearse your testimony. Do get a good night’s sleep, eat well, shower, and wear something that makes you feel professional and confident. Taking care of yourself is vital. It’s hard to feel prepared and in control when you haven’t slept, when your stomach is growling, or when you just threw on the clothes that were closest at hand before racing out the door.
Consider Seeing a Therapist
If you’re representing yourself in court, you’re saving money on an attorney. So why not invest those savings in yourself by seeing a therapist if you can. Separation, divorce, and child custody disputes are painful and difficult. Nobody expects you to feel on top of the world all the time. You just need to be able to control your emotional reactions in court. Therapy can give you the tools that you need in order to do that.
A therapist can give you tools that you can draw on when you’re feeling frustrated and upset, such as when you’re in court listening to your ex-partner give their version of events – one that you may not particularly agree with. Instead of interrupting with an argument, you could practice mindfulness – the practice of peacefully accepting what is without trying to change it. Or you could do some quiet deep breathing exercises. A therapist will help you learn how to use these types of tools at critical moments so that your emotions don’t run away with you. Not only can this help you stay calmer in court, but it can also help you stay calm and rational during other difficult moments in other parts of your life.
Know What it is You Want to Say
You don’t want to interrupt when other people are speaking in court, but what about when it’s your turn to speak? If you just start talking with no plan for what you’re going to say, you may find yourself saying more than you meant to and getting more emotional than you meant to.
Spend some time before court working on what you want to say and how you want to express it. Be honest, make yourself clear, but try to make statements that get to the point quickly. Write your thoughts down first, then edit them for clarity and coherence, and go over them again. When you’re asked questions, keep your answers short, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer if you don’t, and resist the temptation to ramble or make a speech. Practicing your testimony ahead of time and writing down what you want to say can help you seem prepared, thoughtful, and eloquent when it’s your turn to speak, instead of emotional, angry, or rambling.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you learn about court procedures, prepare and store legal documents, and even prepare your testimony. Knowing that you’re ready for the court appearance, that your documents are correctly filled out and filed, and that your testimony is polished and ready can definitely help you maintain your calm in court.