Custody Preparation for Moms

A support site provided by those that have been through the process.
   

 

 

How To Present Yourself In Court

A court experience must be prepared and planned for as if it were a performance, an important job interview or a major sporting event in which you are the star player. First impressions are very important in the courtroom. You want to establish to the judge that you are a capable and fit mother who has all the emotional, physical, mental strengths and financial strategies to be the primary parent of your children. You have to know how to play the courtroom game--what to wear, how to act, what to say, or not say. Here are some tips for presenting well in the courtroom:

Expressions:
Steel yourself that you will not show emotions which could be harmful to you. The court room is a battlefield. You can not show human emotion as you would normally to a friend or confidante.

Keep a calm and pleasant expression on your face at all times, except when a modest level of emotion is necessary to discuss something that would require some emotion. Example: if you are testifying about abuse you and your child have endured, it is appropriate to show some distress, some variation in your tone of voice, some difficulty in retaining your composure. But don't cave, don't crumble, don't cry, and don't get angry.

Assume that you are being watched at all times--no grimacing, scowling, snickering, frowns, sneers, tears, sobs, etc. You never know at what moment the judge is going to glance over your way. It is not unheard of for opposing counsel to ask that the judge admonish a litigant for facial expressions, which may call your stability and credibility into question in the judge's eyes. Avoid looking stone-like or devoid of any emotional as well. It's a balancing act.

Our best tip? Don't forget to breathe!

Anger:
Women are not allowed to be angry in the court room. You've heard the saying...a man is aggressive, a woman is a bitch? Nowhere is that more true a statement than in court. Face it, most of the judges are middle-aged, wealthy white guys. The few women on the bench have had to prove themselves in that same arena. The judiciary likely does not reflect most of our peer groups. You are dealing with a male-dominated courtroom and mentality. Think old school.

Even though you may have excellent reasons for being angry, save your anger and frustration for when you are alone. Prior to or after your court experience, pound a pillow, run around the block a few times, buy a punching bag. Just don't let it show anywhere else. NEVER SHOW IT IN THE COURTROOM. See our discussion of facial expressions above.

How to Dress:
If you think you are not going to be judged by your appearance, think again. It is a simple reality that we are judged by our appearances and all the more true in the courtroom. If you have tattoos, multiple body piercings, purple hair and a penchant for leather and short skirts, save your individuality for days when yours and your children's future doesn't depend on it. Looking sexy is out.

Think updated June Cleaver. June was "no nonsense", but maternal, soft yet straightforward, soft-spoken but with impact. This is a tough balancing act, but entirely possible. Look as if you are a mother first and foremost who can take care of her kids and model appropriate behavior. Dress conservatively for all court appearances, evaluator and therapy appointments. Again, we can't say this enough--think June Cleaver--June was certainly a capable woman--she didn't take any guff from Ward or The Beav, but she always looked soft, sweet, feminine, conservative and maternal.

Avoid flash and avoid looking too severe. Avoid red--too flashy; and black--too serious and strong. Simple lines, muted/soft colors and limited accessories are usually best. Make-up and hair should also be conservative. Make-up should be used sparingly and in earth tones and lighter shades. Hair should be traditional and in colors found in nature. No dragon-lady fingernails.  If you are claiming "poor", leave the expensive jewelry and designer labels at home.

Demeanor:
Your voice and tone should be respectful, soft and demure, but audible. Never be strident, angry, argumentative. Be outwardly calm and level-headed no matter what.

Use phrases like "our child" or "our children". Avoid using the term "my child". Judges want to hear that you still feel your ex is an important person in the children's life no matter what his deficiencies and that you are able to share the children with him in some manner. We are aware of judges that have awarded custody to the father simply because a mother used the phrase "my child" repeatedly in her testimony. Try to have something positive to say about the child's father and his extended family at appropriate moments. This is difficult when you have been a victim of domestic violence or the father abuses the children. Keep in mind in this situation that your children will always carry some of their father's traits and looks. It is important that they know him in some fashion so that they may work through the abuse and love themselves. Hopefully, if the court is truly looking out for the best interests of the children, the custody and visitation will provide for safety and stability for them.

No matter what you hear in the courtroom, do not display a reaction. You are likely going to hear some outrageous things from your ex when he testifies. Review the section on "expressions". You do not want to react visibly. If you have to vent, or need to alert your attorney to a falsehood or statement that needs cross-examination, write it down discreetly on a scratch pad kept in front of you.

When you are being cross examined by opposing counsel, you should expect them to be brutal. Their tone may sound condescending, unkind and sometimes downright hostile. They may try to lead you to say things that can be damaging to your case. They will try to discredit you and your parenting.

Listen fully to the questions. Be consistent with your answers. If you do not understand something, ask them to repeat it. If the question is too lengthy, ask them to break it down. If you do not remember something, say so rather than make it up. Take your time to collect your thoughts. No matter how insulting, potentially damaging or stupid the question, answer it truthfully. Think of opposing counsel as a new acquaintance who you would like to help understand your position.

Sometimes opposing counsel will try to force you to answer a question with "yes" or "no", and phrase it such that a one-word answer will cast you in a bad light when a more explanatory answer would not. You can try to say "I'm sorry, I'm not able to answer that question adequately with a "yes" or "no" answer," or ask them to rephrase it. This may alert the judge to intervene, your attorney to object, or to prepare to ask you a question to follow up and allow you to explain your answer.

If opposing counsel asks open-ended questions, use them to your full advantage.

The judge may ask you questions. Be prepared to answer why you are the best primary parent for your child/children. Be prepared to answer as to what you think the most appropriate visitation schedule would be for your children and why.


 

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