At every court appearance during your New York divorce, you are being evaluated: The judge is assessing your credibility; the attorneys are sizing you up to figure out what kind of witness you will be at trial. The attorneys are analyzing you they want to see if you are emotional or very controlled; cool and calm or easily frazzled; completely scattered or totally focused; persuasive or incomprehensible; likeable or despicable.
It is not uncommon to watch a party in court so lacking in decorum, that his arguments are completely undermined. Though you will be nervous, with a little common sense, your courtroom conduct can make a favorable impression on the court and advance your case.
Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the scheduled court appearance. Give yourself some extra time for traffic, to park the car, for transit delays, and to navigate the line to go through the metal detector-you have to go through a metal detector at every New York court. By arriving, early, you will have an opportunity to straighten yourself out, collect your thoughts and to address any last minute concerns with your attorney.
If you do not know what to wear, read my article How to Dress for Court. In short, dress in a neat and professional manner.
Turn Off Your Cell Phone.
Nothing will get the judge's ire more than a ringing cell phone. If you absolutely need to have your telephone on, put it on vibrate. Beware -- if the phone rings, the court officer will likely take it away from you.
Keep a Poker Face
Don't make faces or gestures. You will have an opportunity to make your case or rebut your spouse's arguments. If you have to communicate with your attorney either pass him a note or make a note to discuss your thoughts at a later time.
Try not to show you anger or disdain for the other side. Some attorneys will make inflammatory statements just to incite a reaction; don't fall for this ploy.
Be Clear and Confident
When speaking, maintain eye contact and speak in a loud clear voice.
If you are looking away from the judge or averting making eye contact with your spouse, you may come off as untrustworthy. You are in court to be heard and believed. Speak with conviction.
Know When To Shut Up!
Speak only when instructed to do so. Never interrupt or talk out of turn. Don't argue with anyone, particularly especially the judge. If the judge make a ruling you do not like, remain quiet. Remember keep a poker face.
While toning down the aggressiveness, do not become passive. Be engaged and show interest. This case is all about you -- if you are not interested, why should anyone else be?
Be Courteous to the Court staff.
The Court Officers and clerks make the courts run efficiently. In many courtrooms in New York, the court officers tell the judge which cases are ready to be heard. Anger the court officers and you may find you are the last case called.
School Rules Apply.
Just as when you went to school there is no gum chewing or smoking.
The rules of courtroom etiquette are common-sensical. But, when under a microscope, actions speak louder than words; it is astounding how often sophisticated, educated, successful and otherwise competent people irreparably hurt themselves by behaving badly in the courtroom.
In sum, all these rules of conduct could be expressed in two words- be adult.
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