An article in today’s paper has prompted me to write about what you should do in anticipation of your first Court appearance. The said article reported that Magistrate Carney of Sutherland Local Court chastised a lady for not meeting the Court’s dress code, stating “It’s completely inappropriate to wear cut off denim shorts up to your thighs in court“.
Be the Perfect Litigant
You should remember that when you are attending Court the Judge has very little opportunity to observe you, yet they make decisions which impact the rest of your life. So making a good impression, particularly in the Family Court where the Court has such a wide discretion, cannot be understated.
It is often said that the difference between a party to a criminal law matter and a party to a family law matter is that the former is a bad person who is on their very best behaviour, whereas the latter is a good person behaving terribly. Again, in a Court with such a wide discretion, it pays to conduct yourself in the best possible way. After all, everything you do is likely to be scrutinised by the Court.
I always say to clients to be the perfect litigant – which basically means comply with Court directions, act reasonably and avoid being reactive or reactionary. It is easier said than done – particularly when your opponent (your former spouse) is behaving in the exact opposite way and it seems there are no consequences for them. You need to remember that the consequences come at the end of the matter when the Judge exercises their discretion in favour of you (the perfect litigant).
Top 5 tips for Court:-
- Know where to go – make sure you know where you are going, where to park, how long it will take you to get there. Give yourself plenty of time. Your stress levels are already likely to be elevated without then running late or getting lost;
- Dress like it is one of the most important days of your life – because it is. If you present in a way where it appears no effort has been made, then it would be fair for the Judge to assume that you do not really care about what is in dispute;
- Show respect for the Court and the presiding Judicial officer – when you enter the Court room, bow to the Judge. Remove your sunglasses. Have your mobile phone switched to silent (do not play with it whilst you are in the Court room). Be quiet and keep any talk to a minimum. Similarly, do not react and carry on when submissions are being made or the Judge remarks about an aspect of your case – it is astounding to see how frequently parties react to submissions being made. Expect that things are going to be said which you say are untrue, which are belittling and denigrating of you and which you do not agree. The Judge expects you to sit there without reaction;
- Bring a support person – having a support person is advisable only if they are likely to be calming and offer objective advice. The support person should not be emotionally invested or have an explosive personality. You need to keep calm and if your support person is only heightening your emotions, then they are best left at home; and
- Expect to be at Court all day – even though your matter may only be before the Judge for 15 minutes, your matter may not be called on until late in the day. So make sure that you have made necessary arrangements to be there all day – for example, you have someone to collect kids from school and you have taken an entire day off from your employment. You will have expended a lot of nervous energy in the lead up to your Court event and whilst you wait to get on to be heard, so it is important to eat and drink throughout the day.
The above tips are universal and not case specific. Obviously, you or your lawyer needs to be prepared to run your case and to address the Court on the evidence and the law.