Don't Make These Mistakes in Divorce Court

Heard your share of divorce horror stories? Now that it’s your turn, you don’t want to end up with war stories of your own. You don’t want your divorce to drag out, especially not at the cost of the marital estate! If you want to come out on the other end satisfied with your divorce, we advise you to avoid making the most common mistakes in divorce court that end up costing those who litigate.

1. Representing yourself in court.
This is the most common mistake people make. You might do okay, but good attorneys are in court frequently. They know the etiquette, they know the judges and court procedures, and a number of other things that could help a client. In many situations, you only have one chance to make a good impression and by having a good lawyer, you improve your odds. We highly recommend attending all court appearances with an attorney by your side who’s looking out for your best interests.

2. Showing up late to court.
Judges are very busy and this is a big no-no. If you roll into the courtroom late, it will appear as if you are disrespecting the judge and his or her time. Tardiness gives off a bad first impression and will not work in your favor. If you have to leave two hours early to avoid LA traffic, then do so! You don’t want to risk being late to your trial.

3. Not having your paperwork.
One way to waste your time, the court’s time, and your attorney’s time is to not have the necessary paperwork prepared. For example, if you’re trying to ask for a downward modification on your child support, you should have all of your recent paystubs. Or, if you’re asking to have your spouse cover the uninsured medical expenses for your children, you should have all of their medical documentation ready to show the judge. If the judge asks for something and you have it, that’s going to help your case.

4. Not dressing right.
To say, “Appearances don’t matter” would be an untruth. They do matter, especially in divorce court. If you’re trying to win custody of your kids or if you’re at least trying to get joint legal and physical custody, coming to court in sweats and a T-shirt or ripped jeans and a tank top, or in revealing clothing (for women) won’t help your case. Likewise, if you’re trying to say you can’t afford spousal support, coming to court in a $500 (or more) outfit won’t help convince the judge you’re too poor to pay up. Here’s a tip: dress like you’re going to a job interview at a bank.

5. Not quieting your cellphone.
This may not be criminal court, but cellphones are just as off-limits. Before you come into court, silence your cellphone. Judges are overwhelmed and have limited time, they do not want to be interrupted by ringing or buzzing cellphones. Also, you must control the urge to check your texts or catch up on your social media while you’re languishing in court – this is “bad courtroom behavior” and highly-frowned upon. From the moment you enter court, stay off your cellphone and do not use it until after you’ve left the court room.

6. Interrupting the judge.
This is one of the worst things you can do. When the judge speaks, listen quietly and do not interrupt him or her. We promise, you will get your turn to speak. If you’re afraid that you’ll forget something important, our advice is to write all of your thoughts on a piece of paper and bring that to court with you for reference.

7. Not talking to your attorney about the trial ahead of time.
It’s critical to talk to a lawyer before your trial. You need to know what to expect and how things will progress. Your attorney can ensure that you’re fully prepared and that all of your questions are answered. If need be, it may be helpful for you to attend someone else’s trial before yours so you know what to expect.

8. Making irrational demands.
This is a divorce, not Craigslist or an estate sale where you can haggle over the price of an antique chair. It’s not uncommon for people to want X amount of dollars so they’ll ask for double the amount, expecting the other side to meet them in the middle. When you do this, it comes across as if you’re greedy. Remember, judges are looking for “reasonable” solutions, not unfair demands where one spouse is taken advantage of.

9. Being rude to courtroom staff.
Don’t be rude to the court clerk or other courtroom staff. While the judge is the one who makes decisions on your case, the court clerk ensures everything runs smoothly. If you’re rude to the court clerk, it’s going to upset the judge. Not only that, but if you offend the clerk, you can expect your case to be the very last one of the day.

10. Demonstrating belligerent behavior.
You may have every right to be angry, but that does not mean you can lose your cool in court. You must keep your anger to yourself and be on your best behavior. You can have every right to be upset with your spouse but if you’re belligerent in the courtroom, it’s going to act against you – things are going to be harder. Whatever you do, present your case with the utmost respect; it will make a difference.

Related: Navigating a High Conflict Divorce

Looking for a Los Angeles divorce attorney? Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP to schedule your free initial case evaluation.