If You Have to Go To Divorce Court

Part one of two: If you and your spouse can't settle your divorce out of court, this judge has a few tips on how to handle yourself.

By , Judge
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The wisest approach is to do everything possible to handle your divorce without showing your face in a courtroom. But, because of the particular facts of your situation, it may not be possible for you to totally avoid that bewildering arena.

For example, you have no reasonable alternative but to go to court if:

  • you and your spouse can't resolve all of the issues in your divorce and for some reason, mediation or collaborative divorce doesn't work
  • your spouse won't pay court-ordered support, doesn't follow the schedule for visiting with your child, or gets physically or emotionally abusive with you, or
  • after a court has entered a judgment, circumstances change—such as you lose your job—and it is necessary to modify an existing court order.

So, with my hope that you never need to use them, here are a few tips on how to make any necessary court appearance as smooth and free from stress as possible.

You may be wondering why it's necessary for you to pay attention to tips on how to handle yourself in court. After all, a court appearance simply requires you to get a few pieces of information to a judge so that he or she can make some relevant decisions.

That is true. But in an average day of judging in divorce court, I made 957 or more decisions. Some of them were on small matters, such as who should get the car that two spouses owned together. And some were on big ones—such as where the kids should spend Christmas, or how many hundreds of dollars per month one spouse would have to pay the other for child support or alimony. Those decisions were based on the law and on the particular facts or evidence in a case: for example, if one spouse worked in a dangerous part of town, it seemed logical that he or she should be awarded their car just for the sake of safety.

Like other divorce court judges, I tried to disregard things that were irrelevant—such as the fact that one spouse's new love was sitting in the front row of the courtroom carrying on like some kind of cheerleader. I might have glared at the cheerleader. I might even have asked the bailiff to escort him or her out of the courtroom. But when it came time to make a decision, I tried very hard to be sure something like that did not influence me. However, if you put me under oath and asked whether personal feelings had any influence on any ruling I ever made, I'd be hard pressed to say they never did.

As a more subtle example, judges should also apply tunnel vision to the person who walks into a courtroom in session, sits down in the front row of the audience section, starts wildly chewing some substance, and then pulls out a newspaper and flips through the pages. But such behavior would likely bother most judges on some level, because it shows disrespect for the institution in which important decisions are made and disrupts the dignified atmosphere.

Failing to show respect for the court and its standards of personal conduct may only detract slightly from how a judge evaluates your case.

But a slight detraction can be decisive if your case presents a close call on who is to be believed.

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