Family Court Hearings: Tips and Strategies

October 13, 2022  |  Jason C. Brown

Courtrooms are not meant to be friendly or comfortable. They exist for one purpose: decision-making. How do you stand the best chance at making a good impression on the judge? Here are ten things to keep in mind:

  1. Dress the part. The court does not expect you to wear formal attire to the hearing. At the same time, t-shirts and blue jeans are probably best kept for another day. Business casual is just fine.
  2. Refer to the court as “your honor.” Over the years, I’ve observed litigants call the judge “madam,” “sir,” or “judge.” All are tactful, but the path of least resistance is to simply use “your honor.” That way, the court’s train of thought won’t be disrupted.
  3. Leave your phone in the car. Cell phones are quite disruptive in a quiet courtroom setting. Some judges confiscate ringing phones and charge the owner to get it back – even when they thought it was on silent mode. Don’t take a chance.
  4. Speak only when spoken to. The judge is trying to manage a courtroom full of people as efficiently as possible. Follow their lead. If you are asked a question, answer it. But don’t try to take control of the situation.
  5. Don’t argue. It may sound counterintuitive, but there is a time for legal argument – and no time for argument. If you disagree with a judge’s decision, be quiet and courteous. There are avenues beyond being disgruntled to have the decision reviewed.
  6. Tell your supporters to behave. It is not uncommon for a family court litigant to bring friends or family to court for moral support. But the judge can see everything from that bench – including sighs, eye rolls and distain from observers. That can reflect poorly on you.
  7. Always tell the truth. The first thing the judge will do in rendering a decision is contemplate who the more credible party is. The court does not expect you to be a perfect person. No one is. But they do expect candor. Leave it to your lawyer to maneuver around an ugly fact that may come out about you during the hearing.
  8. Sit quietly and take notes. How you act tells the court as much about you as what you say. Can you handle adversity with grace? Or are you talking under your breath, whispering loudly to your counsel and shaking your head?
  9. Be patient. Quite often, your case will be just one of a dozen on the judge’s calendar that day. Some are simple. Some are complex. Some involve lawyers. Some don’t. The court will do their best to handle things efficiently, but it is pointless to lose patience.
  10. Be reasonable. If the judge asks you if you are willing to do something, it usually means the judge has an idea of how to resolve matters by agreement. Judges, like many, take pride in their own creativity. You will score points by accepting their recommendation, setting you up for a more favorable result on issues of greater importance.