Family Law Blog

6 Ways you Can Prepare for your Family Court Attendance

While it’s true that most family law matters resolve at some point before a trial, there is still a chance that during the separation process you will have to attend Court (whether remotely or in-person).

Attending Court, especially to give evidence, can be a nerve-wracking experience.

The processes, formalities, environment and conduct of a Court hearing can be a bit foreign to many people. This leads to increased stress and sometimes to avoidable mistakes being made.

So, if you have to attend Court, in particular to give evidence (your own lawyer asking your questions) or be cross-examined (your ex’s lawyer asking you questions) it can be a good idea to do a bit of preparation beforehand.

Ordinarily your family lawyers will help you by talking you through the process and any helpful ways you can prepare in your particular circumstances.

In this article we’ll set out 6 simple strategies to help your Court appearance go smoothly.

Your Own Case

In the reasonably complicated landscape of the legal system and the (sometimes significant) exchanges of letters, emails and telephone calls that take place during a contested separation proceeding, it can be easy to lose sight of precisely what the primary issues are in your case.

Of course, everyone understands that generally you want to resolve issues of property and children – but within the specifics, there can be a lot of nuance.

Holding on to an understanding of the core elements of your case and what your legal advice is about them can be very helpful to avoid getting caught up in details that, while potentially significant, aren’t central to the issues at hand.

If the documents you have don’t make this clear, then it’s a good question to ask your family lawyers, especially before a critical hearing or a trial. Also bear in mind that issues change. What were major items at the start of your separation may have been dealth with by the time you go to trial.

Why You’re There

Not every hearing before a Court is designed to address every outstanding issue.

Many separating parties want to leap on a Court appearance as an opportunity to raise all kinds of different concerns or grievances that have occurred. This, however, is not always possible or advisable.

Make sure you know what THIS Court appearance is about and what specifically the Court will be considering along the way.

There are two main types of hearing: applications (for discrete topics) and trials (a full hearing of the matter).

If it’s a trial, then a wider range of things will be covered than, for example, an application concerning your ex’s financial disclosure.

With that in mind, you then need to consider what your role is at the hearing.

Are you there voluntarily to keep an eye on how things go (parties don’t always need to attend a hearing – often lawyers can do it without their clients present)?

Are you there to give evidence? Are you there to help your lawyer with instructions along the way if they need it?

Understanding what the hearing is about and what your role is can help you to appreciate why some issues come up but not others, and also smooth the way for you and your lawyer to communicate meaningfully about the hearing before, during and after.

Discuss with your Lawyer How to Offer Input

So if you’re attending a hearing and one of your reasons for being there is to assist your lawyer with facts or instructions along the way, how are you going to do that?

Is the hearing remote or in person? If it’s remote how will you contact your lawyer and what is the best way for you to do that (not all lawyers can readily exchange text messages while paying attention to a Court hearing!).

If the hearing is in a physical Courtroom, how will you give instructions and when is it best for you to do so? Should you wait for your lawyer to check something with you, or volunteer information along the way?

Wear Something Neat but Comfortable

It’s worth bearing in mind that you are being assessed when you put yourself in front of a Court and in front of your ex’s lawyers.

They are wondering what kind of witness you will be, how “credible” your evidence might be, and a variety of other strategic factors. And, rightly or wrongly, part of that assessment will take place based on what you’re wearing.

And so it’s a good idea to wear something that is:

  1. neat; and
  2. comfortable.

The first is to help create a subconscious perception that you are reliable, dependable, and truthful. It also helps reinforce that you are taking the process seriously.

The second is to avoid you feeling like (and looking like!) you are uncomfortable about something. After all, in terms of non-verbal cues, if you break out in a sweat and pull at your collar a lot, then you might look like a dishonest person – whereas in truth it’s just because you haven’t worn a suit in 30 years.

We don’t need to overthink clothing though – go with something neat and comfortable and you should be fine.

Review Relevant Documents

Once you know your own case, why you’re there and how best to communicate with your lawyer it’s a good plan to review the documents before the Court day.

Most likely this will be affidavits filed by each person, and potentially some of the main documents relevant to the day.

Now if it’s a full trial this could take a fair while because there could be a lot of material.

If it’s a smaller hearing you might not have much to review at all.

It’s always worth the refresher. And of course if you see anything in your own material that doesn’t look right, it’s best to tell your lawyer sooner rather than later.

Process

It can be very helpful to understand what’s going to happen on the day.

Will your matter be heard at the time you need to attend? How long will it take? What is the rough (most likely) order of events going to be?

Understanding what’s going to happen and in what order it will probably happen can be useful to let you focus on the things that matter on the day. It also helps you arrange your day appropriately.

Of course, sometimes things don’t go entirely according to plan, but a general idea of the playbook is a useful way to prepare.

In Short… Communicate

If we were to sum up this article, we’d say this: communicate with your lawyer.

Ask questions, read material, find out what’s going to happen and how you and your lawyer can best work together to ensure your case is put forward in the strongest way possible.

Sometimes your role in a Court hearing might be fairly minimal on the day. Other times if you are giving evidence or providing instructions, your role might be very significant.

Provided you have open and positive lines of communication with your lawyer, you should be in a good space for your Court attendance.

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