Most people imagine a courtroom to be just like an episode of Law & Order or Boston Legal. For most people with divorce and family law matters, TV shows really aren’t a good benchmark of what to expect when you go to court for your case. Here is what you can expect...
1. Court security. Almost all courthouses require you go to through a metal detector before entering the courthouse. Some require you to take off your shoes (think TSA-style security). Most of the time you need to take off a belt and empty your pocket of phones, change, etc. No matter what, you should definitely build in some extra time to get through security. Don’t show up to court at 8:55 am thinking you’ll be right on time for your 9:00 am hearing.
2. No jury. One of the common questions my clients ask is whether or not there will ever be a jury in their divorce case. Unless we are talking about an extremely unusual quasi-criminal subdivision of divorce cases called contempt, no, there will never be a jury. Your case will be decided by a judge or a commissioner.
3. It’s public. Many people are also surprised to learn that their case is not the only one on calendar. Most types of family law cases are public hearings. That means a few things. First, there will likely be more than one case set for the same time as yours, which means that you should be prepared to wait for a long time before the judge calls your case. Second, anyone can sit in the audience during your hearing, which means that you are able to bring family and friends with you (although I would generally recommend that you avoid bringing a whole entourage). Third, watch what you say – don’t blurt out private information that IS going to be overheard by other people.
4. Read the signs. Most courtrooms post the list of hearings outside of their doors first thing every morning. Don’t ignore it – look at the list to make sure your case is on there, and look to see where you are on the list. Look at the tables when you walk into the courtroom. Many judges have signs at the tables that designate which one is the Petitioner’s table and which one is the Respondent’s table. This will show you where the judge expects you to sit when your case is called. And almost all courtrooms have signs indicating what the expected proper etiquette is. Most of the time, this means no cell phones, drinks, food, hats, sunglasses, gum, etc.
5. Be Respectful. This should go without being said, but being respectful will go a long way with the Judge.