510-250-7834
Law Offices of Hannah E. Sims, LL.M.
Oakland Certified Family Law Specialist

Proper decorum in the courtroom is vital in custody cases

If you have an open custody case in the Oakland courts, you may feel like your life is being examined under a microscope. In a way it is, which is why your behavior while in the courtroom will be especially scrutinized.

Below are some tips for demonstrating respect for the court and its proceedings while attending custody hearings.

Dress appropriately

Your family law attorney will likely address this with you prior to your first appearance before the judge presiding over your child custody case. Regardless, keep the following in mind:

  • Dress in dark colors. Men can wear suits, or a shirt and tie. Women should dress conservatively and not show skin. Visible tattoos should be covered, if possible.
  • Wear shoes with the toes enclosed.

Keep your emotions in check

There is probably nothing that can tank a custody case faster than an emotional outburst from one of the parties. Judges will remember which parent was able to remain calm under pressure and which one lashed out verbally in the courtroom.

So will the other parent's attorney, who may intentionally try to provoke an outburst from you to trigger just such an inappropriate response. Don't take the bait. Remember that if opposing counsel asks an inappropriate question, your attorney may object. The final arbiter of whether you must answer is the judge, however.

If you feel like you are about to blow, take a moment to compose yourself before answering, but never allow anger to creep into your voice.

Keep answers brief and factual

When being questioned by opposing counsel, try to limit your answers to "yes" or "no" when that's possible. Don't add more information than is asked, and never lie under oath.

In contested custody cases, it's common for attorneys to prepare their clients for court by peppering them with a series of questions designed to mimic the actual questions they will be asked in court. Use this prep time to get a handle on your emotions while under pressure.

Speak only when addressed as a witness

In especially contentious hearings, it's common to listen to a former partner or spouse detail events that didn't happen the way they are being described, or may have never occurred at all. Remain poker-faced regardless of the testimony you hear.

If you feel the need to voice an objection, it must be done properly through your attorney. Let him or her know, either by writing a note to your attorney or quietly whispering.

Always present yourself in the best light possible

Keep in mind that the judge is only privy to the version of yourself that he or she sees in the courtroom. While other factors like reports from court-ordered psychological assessments may also factor into the judge's decisions, the court is generally presented with only a limited portrait of you as an individual and parent.

It's important to concentrate on making a good impression on the judge. This means that you should treat everyone with respect, including the other parent and his or her attorney. Acting belligerently or disrespectfully towards anyone in the courtroom will win you no points with the judge tasked with determining the custody arrangements for your child(ren).

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