How NOT to behave in Family Court
You are representing yourself in court. Tips on how to help the judge help you.
Being your own lawyer, whether by choice or not, is not easy.
Not only are there laws and rules for you to learn, but all of the behaviour too.
One rather tricky thing is how to behave in court. Whether that is court by video technology due to the pandemic or whether you are physically in the courtroom, there are things you need to do and things you need to avoid doing.
Keep in mind, the judge is the one who is in charge of your fate. Annoy that person at your peril.
Here are some key points to remember to help your case when you are in court.
- Be respectful of the judge. Ignore this tip and you are well on the way to losing your case. This means when the judge is talking, you are not. If the judge interrupts you, do not use this as a time to launch more strenuously into your argument. Stop talking. Right away and listen. They are likely trying to highlight to you an important point you need to understand. Have your pen and paper at the ready to make a note of it and do not lose that paper. You may need to keep reminding yourself of that point and others to come.
- Be respectful of everyone else. Even your former spouse or the person you are “against” in court. It is annoying to the judge and demonstrates that you do not listen. Your conduct is important. If you insult the person you are against (often in family court that is your former spouse) or any other people (such as your spouse’s lawyer), the judge is going to be upset with you. Always keep in mind the judge is the person who makes the final decision and you are trying to convince that person that you should “win”.
- Never call anyone names. Not even your former spouse. Not even if you believe they are lying about something. Tempting as that may be. In short, never.
- No food or drink in Court. That includes gum. Whether you are on video court or in the real courtroom, this is not the place for a coffee and sandwich. Courts do have lunch breaks. You do not need to be fearful of that. Most of the time a clear glass of water is permitted, however if you are on video, ask permission to do this. Never have a coffee cup or mug or your own travel cup. Again, remember you want to be respectful of the Court. Chomping on a doughnut while listening to legal arguments is not the way to be respectful.
- No hats. That means baseball hats, toques or hats of any sort. Only religious head covering is permitted. This may seem obvious, but people break these common rules all the time.
- No cell phones on. Any electronic devices must be off if they would ring or buzz. You are also not permitted to record court.
- When speaking to the judge say “Your Honour”. For example, “If Your Honour would look at page 3 of my argument…” or “Those are my arguments Your Honour”. Do not say “Mr. Judge or Ms. Judge”. It all goes back to respect for the Court. When speaking of others, always use Mr. or Ms. so-and-so, not by their first names. If your former partner is Jane Doe, refer to her as Ms. Doe, never “Jane” when speaking in the court. You may hear lawyers referring to each other as “my friend”. This may seem bizarre, but they are not saying it the way you would refer to a regular friend. It is a term of courtesy in Court. It does not mean your lawyer and your former spouse’s lawyer have turned buddies on you. It is purely formal.
- Speak only to the judge. This seems odd as well, as you may want to ask the lawyer for your spouse something, but you can’t do that in court. You need to say, “Your Honour, would Mr. Smith be able to provide me with a copy of the case he refers to?” instead of “Mr. Smith I want a copy of that case”.
- Know when you can interrupt. Remember, you never interrupt the judge. However, you can interrupt the other party or their lawyer in an appropriate situation. It is called objecting. The most common situation is when the other person is asking a witness an inappropriate question. For example, their opinion on something if they are not an expert witness. Only experts are allowed to give opinions, all other witnesses can only give evidence on what they witnessed. If, say, your former spouse is on the stand giving evidence and your former spouse’s lawyer asks him or her if in their opinion they feel you are suffering from a medical disease, your spouse cannot answer that. You are allowed to interrupt and object to that question. The rules on objecting are detailed so that needs more reading on your behalf. Objections are the only times you are allowed to interrupt.
- Make sure you have evidence. If you are going to court and arguing over, say, child support, if you show up with no evidence you are not helping your case. Make sure you bring a sworn budget with documents to back it up. Bring your income tax returns and pay stubs. If your expenses are in issue, you must have proof. If you simply show up and start talking about what you want but have no evidence, no proof, you are not going to fare well.
There are many things you can do to help yourself when you represent yourself in Court. Follow all of these and you are off to a good start.
Always remember, an un-bundled lawyer can help you out with any further coaching you may need, any documents you need to prepare or helping you understand the law a bit better as it applies to your case. We are happy to help you.