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
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!
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
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.
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
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.
© 2002 - 2012 Custody Preparation For Moms.ORG