Just before the first court appearance in every divorce case, I am asked the same question, "How do I dress?" My answer: dress appropriately. While you, a non-celebrity party in a divorce case, are not appearing on the red carpet before hoards of paparazzi and fashion critics, you are in court to be judged. Though a judge in a divorce case is supposed to base his decision on the testimony or evidence presented, your demeanor and your personal appearance may affect the judge's ultimate decision. How you are dressed could very well send messages to the judge, which could potentially undermine your legal strategy.
Here are some tips to keep the proper focus on your legal arguments, not your appearance.
1. Dress respectfully: By going to court, you are attending to your personal business. So dress as you would if you were going to work in a professional office and wanted to be seriously considered. Don't wear anything too sexy or too revealing. You would not wear shorts and a T-shirt in an office; do not wear them in court.
Obviously your clothes should be clean and fit properly. You have to be comfortable in the clothes and with the statement they are making about you. I have a client who wears his work uniform to court because he thinks it sublimely signals to the judge that he is a "working man" and not wealthy.
2. Dress appropriately: If the gist of your case is you are destitute and need support, don't come to court dressed in the latest designer fashions with expensive accessories. Wearing a brand-new Rolex watch contradicts your claim that you cannot afford to pay child support.
3. Don't bring your new boy/girlfriend to court: It is fine to move on and enter into a new relationship, even when your divorce is being litigated. But if you need to bring someone to court to provide moral support, bring an extended adult family member (never your children). Never bring your new boy or girlfriend. Bringing your new "friend" to divorce court just adds insult to injury.
4. Shower and shave: Hygiene counts. Don't come to court reeking of cigarette smoke or last night's bender. Do not overdo makeup or perfume or cologne. Appear as if you are someone who is clean cut, honest and trustworthy.
5. Don't over-accessorize: Do not wear too much jewelry and do cover your body art. You do not want to draw attention to yourself or to look garish or cartoonish. You want to be taken seriously.
6. Turn your mobile telephone off and leave it in your pocket: At the minimum, you should mute your cell phone and keep it out of sight. Stop texting. There will be plenty of time when you return home to tell your friends what happened in court. If you need to make a call, excuse yourself, leave the courtroom and make a brief call in the hallway.
The judge is going to make long-lasting decisions about you and your family. You have only one chance to make a first impression on the judge. By exercising some common sense and discretion, you can prevent your appearance from negatively impacting the judge's decision.
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