Your big day in divorce court. It’s not a date that most people look forward to, but it’s a monumental one nevertheless. While divorce court judges base their decisions on the testimony or evidence presented, your personal appearance and demeanor can indeed affect the judge’s ultimate decision. This is why putting forth your best image and demeanor is paramount. You don’t want all of your advantages to be undermined by wearing the wrong thing or acting foolishly in court. How do you set the stage for success in a court for divorce? Read on.
The Most-Asked Question…
When it comes to preparing for their first court case, there is one question I hear from my clients more than any other: “How do I dress for my divorce court appearance?”
My answer? “Dress appropriately.”
Great! What does this mean? Let’s break it down.
Your Divorce Court Attire
Save the red carpet for another day. Assuming that you’re neither Mariah Carey nor Nick Cannon, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not appearing on the red carpet before hoards of paparazzi and fashion critics; you are in court to be judged on your case.
Divorce Court: Think Classic
While the old adage “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” still holds, bear in mind that divorce court judges don’t know you from Adam, so their first impressions are based on the way that you present and carry yourself. How you are dressed could very well send messages to the judge that would potentially undermine your legal strategy. In divorce court, it’s not about finding the right “statement piece” to wear, but rather, making the right statement about you!
Here are some tips to keep the proper focus on your legal arguments, not your appearance.
- Attire. Think of it this way: by going to court, you are attending to your personal business of the most important order. So, dress for divorce court as you would for an important interview at a professional corporation. Stick with neutrals and classic colors such as beige, soft blue, navy, olive, or gray, rather than sporting shocking pink or wild, multi-colored prints.
- For men, this could be a jacket and button-down shirt and khakis.
- Women should consider an understated dress, or a skirt or pantsuit.
- Be respectful of divorce court judges. Certainly, avoid wearing anything sexy, revealing, or too casual. Avoid any clothing with writing on it. You would not wear shorts and a tee-shirt in a professional office; do not wear them in court.
- Fit. Your clothes should be clean and correctly fitted. Naturally, this can mean different things to different people–but this isn’t your Instagram story. Divorce court is not the time to show off abs, arms, cleavage, or too much leg. Your attire should showcase you in a professional manner and not as a plea for attention.
- Dress Appropriately. If the gist of your case is you are destitute and need financial support, be mindful of that. I still recommend sticking with understated, respectful clothing. Showing up to a court for divorce dressed in trendy designs, high-end labels, and expensive accessories doesn’t reflect your case. Wearing a Rolex or other expensive watch contradicts your claim that you cannot afford to pay child support–even if you’ve had the item for a number of years. Conversely, I would also never advocate for showing up to divorce court looking like you just finished some strenuous activity. Again, think clean, understated, and professional.
- Don’t “wear” your new boy/girlfriend to divorce court. Wearing your new significant other on your arm is the biggest accessory no-no! While moving on with new relationships is natural, bringing them into your divorce court proceeding just adds insult to injury. If you need moral support, bring an adult family member. Never bring your children or your new boy or girlfriend to family court divorce. It’s simply a recipe for disaster!
- Shower and Shave. Hygiene counts. Shower and shave on this important day. Don’t bring a “nose blind” attitude to divorce court, reeking of cigarette smoke, or last night’s bender. Why? It sends the message that you are irresponsible and cannot be taken seriously even if it’s untrue.
Similarly, don’t overdo make-up, cologne, or fragrances. Why? It delivers the message of desperation even if it’s untrue.
Your job at divorce court is to present the best “you.” That is someone who is clean-cut, honest, and trustworthy!
- Don’t over-accessorize. As an extension of the strategies above, adopt the “less is more” philosophy for accessorization. Keep your accessories classic and to a minimum. Although tattoos and piercings no longer carry the stigma they once did, keep your appearance conservative and respectful in divorce court. You do not want to draw attention to yourself (especially if your body art could be interpreted as polarizing in some way); nor do you want to look garish or cartoonish. You want to be taken seriously. Sorry, Marvin the Martian…you are getting covered up!
Your Divorce Court Demeanor
Now that you have your successful divorce court attire squared away, let’s cover the other crucial component: your demeanor.
It’s fair to say that divorce brings out deep emotions, many of which are negative and impulsive. The courtroom, the witness stand, and the judge’s bench create an unfamiliar and perhaps unsettling environment. Combine the two, and the potential exists to engage in behavior that could anger the judge, paint you in a bad light, and negatively impact the chances of achieving the outcome you want.
What NOT to do in Divorce Court:
- Arriving late or being a “no-show.” Woody Allen once said that “80% of success is just showing up.” While I wouldn’t listen to Woody when it comes to marital advice, at least this statement holds true. Arriving late, or worse, failing to show up for an expected court date will be interpreted as disrespectful, and divorce court judges will do you no favors for that. Make it your first mission to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than your lawyer says to be there. Being early gives the added benefits of allowing time for your lawyer to update you and allowing you to get “the lay of the land” as well as to prepare for any last-minute changes.
- Failing to keep your emotions in check. The issues decided by the judge will be based on facts and law, not emotion. When and if you testify or otherwise speak, you should keep your responses factual and business-like. When others are speaking, whether it be the judge, the attorneys, your spouse, or other witnesses they may say things you believe to be false or otherwise anger you. NEVER react outwardly. No shouting, insults, eye-rolling, heavy sighing, or the like. When the judge talks to you, listen and really hear what is being said.
- Not putting away your phone. Turn your mobile telephone off and leave it in your pocket.
For many people, their cell phone has essentially become a way of life, and even a new appendage! Having said that, in divorce court, it’s crucial to remember to mute your cell phone and keep it out of sight.
Stop texting. Why? First, in many courtrooms, mobile phone use is forbidden. Secondly, and more importantly, out of respect for the judge and the divorce court. Tending to your phone sends the message that your phone is more important than your case or the judge’s time. It also conveys that you have trouble following instructions and prioritizing what is truly important, and this paints a negative picture of your persona to divorce court judges. It may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. There will be plenty of time when you return home to tell your friends what happened in divorce court. If you need to make a call, excuse yourself, leave the courtroom and make a brief call in the hallway.
- Speaking out of turn or engaging in “crosstalk.” As emotionally-charged as dissolutions of marriage can be, divorce court is neither the time nor place to “get the last word.” Your case will be decided on facts, however, your demeanor can sway things in a different direction. As tempting as it may be to throw an insult in your ex-partner’s direction or to mumble something under your breath, take my word that such behavior will not be appreciated in any family court divorce case.
The same goes for jokes. The court will not interpret your interjections as sympathetic OR humorous, Instead, you will come across as petty and argumentative. Save those moments for the car or the shower!
Resist the urge to interrupt or engage in crosstalk. If your ex throws zingers in your direction, do not engage. Showing restraint will represent you in the best possible light, which is someone who is calm, organized, and not retaliatory.
What about Virtual Divorce Court Appearances?
As part of continuing COVID-19 safety protocols, a number of divorce court hearings have been replaced with virtual court, conducted over MS Teams. Do the same rules apply? Absolutely. Despite the more relaxed feel of the virtual environment, you will want to make sure to:
- Dress appropriately according to the guidelines above. While it’s true that the camera can’t see your pants and shoes, you still want to represent yourself in the best and most professional light.
- Prepare in advance. Make all of the preparations as you would appear in person, plus:
- Pick a room or location with some privacy. While some interruptions like dogs barking or children crying are unavoidable, consider having a baby or dog sitter on hand to minimize distractions.
- Ensure you have a solid internet connection and test the software in advance.
- Switch your cell phone to silent and put it out of sight.
- Make sure your camera filters are off. We can all recall the lawyer who appeared with a silly cat filter on! While it made for a great “viral” moment, you don’t want this to happen to you!
Having fewer distractions will make it easier for you to stay present, professional, and focused!
Can the right attire and behavior guarantee the outcome you want in your divorce case? Probably not. But know that the judge is going to make long-lasting decisions about you and your family. You only have one chance to make a first impression on the judge. By exercising some common sense and discretion, you prevent your appearance from negatively impacting the judge’s decision. Being on time, professional, courteous, and appropriately dressed will help you put your best self forward and poised for the divorce court outcome that you want!
Daniel Clement: Trusted New York and New Jersey Divorce Counsel
New York and New Jersey divorce attorney Daniel Clement has been guiding clients through divorce and family disputes for over 35 years.
He understands your concerns and fears. He wants to help you to overcome the uncertainty and to empower you to make informed decisions that achieve your desired goals.
If you are considering divorce, please download the free e-book The Divorce Process: Everything You Need to Know Before You Move Forward to learn more about the process.
We also welcome you to contact us or call (212) 683-9551 to arrange a consultation. We look forward to assisting you.