Are you heading into family divorce court for the first time?
Thinking back to my first day in family court I still get a bit nauseous. My attorney filed an emergency ex parte motion* and we went into court because my then-husband proceeded to take ALL our savings and report all of our credit cards stolen. Nice huh?
I remember sitting on the cold hard wooden bench in the court room and when my name was called, I remember walking through the swinging gate, taking my place behind the large wooden table next to my attorney. (Just like on television). It was a blur to me and at one point I thought I was going to faint. My ex didn’t show up in court that day and I remembered my attorney was instructed by the Judge to go call his attorney. Taking my seat back on the same bench, I waited about a half hour for her to return and we were summoned back in front of the judge. My attorney spoke to the Judge and stated, “In speaking with opposing counsel, my ex was in Cancun”. (News to me!)
The room started to spin; I wobbled back and forth and felt the floor coming up to meet me. I remember questioning my attorney mid courtroom spin and she told me to let her handle it. To this day, I don’t know how I left the courtroom or drove home.
My first time experience was not the norm and “What I know now that I wished I knew then” is this. “Zip your lip” and let your attorney do the talking. That is why you hired a well-respected lawyer! Only speak when spoken to. The gamete of emotions that you might be feeling, scared, nauseous, overwhelmed, heart-brokered, angry, confused and like a fish out of water are all typical and normal.
Here are 5 things to do in preparation for your “Day In Court”
- Your FAMILY/DIVORCE Attorney should have prepped S/he should tell you what time to arrive, where to meet him/her, and what to bring with you. Be prepared with appropriate documentation. Read the paperwork that has been filed and read what your ex has stated. Be armed with the facts and SPEAK YOUR TRUTH without fear.
- Take a Test Drive: During a recent divorce coaching group call a client of mine shared and suggested a visit to the courtroom prior to the court date to get a look, feel and listen to the flow of the court. I loved this suggestion. Ask your lawyer or call the courthouse to get the necessary information if this would bring you some peace of mind. I wished I had done that!
- Arrive Early, Well Dressed and on your Best behavior: You’ll have to go through security and your bags will be screened. Think airport screening. Wear or bring something special that is empowering to you. My friend gave me an angel bracelet and I actually arrived early and prayed my novena prior to going into the courtroom. Self Nurture ‘you’ before, during and after to get through this experience. Eat Breakfast; the proceedings may take longer than you anticipate.
- Be prepared to wait. There is a lot of hurry up and wait. Bring a few bottled waters and tissues. On my third trip to court I noticed a newbie sitting alone, sobbing and I went and comforted her. She was well dressed, young and you could see she was overwhelmed. My heart broke for her. I gave her my tissues and my water. Since then, I always have extras stashed in the car.
- Divorce is not a spectator sport. You have your attorney with you. Don’t bring your family or friends. My ex brought my then father-in-law who proceeded to sit right next to me in an intimidating manner to make me feel uncomfortable. When I told my attorney and the opposing counsel that I didn’t feel comfortable with him listening/sitting/intimating me (or trying to), ultimately he moved. But be prepared for mind games, pressure and interaction with the ex. *See number one: my attorney held the boundary for me fast and firm. *If you’re going in alone, then bring one trusted ally not your whole tribe. (Speaking about non-witnesses for your proceedings)
- You’ll be sworn in. ‘Raise your right hand, tell the whole truth & nothing but the truth’ sworn in. The hearing dialogue will most likely be between your lawyer, the Judge and your ex’s lawyer. Speak when spoken to in a respectful manner.
Inhale/Exhale and then answer only what is asked.
Short and Sweet, Truthful, Factual Answers
Don’t take the bait. If the opposing team is argumentative or hostile,
REMAIN calm and count to three, inhale, exhale then repeat above.
Going to court for the first time can be emotionally debilitating but if you follow the suggestions above you can create a sense of peace. Self-care is imperative during this time. Create one nurturing item that you can fulfill for yourself each day leading up to your day in court and continue after that day as well. Remember, there is a beginning, middle and end to this portion of your life’s journey and you’re not alone.
* Ex parte /ˌɛks ˈpɑːrtiː/ is a Latin legal term meaning “from (by or for) [the/a] party”. An ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present. (Wikipedia)