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Dress and Conduct in Family Court

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | May 03, 2011 | 0 Comments

Some clients ask.  Some don't.  Everyone needs to know.  How should I dress for Court and how should I act while in Family Court?  This may seem like very basic information, but it is very necessary and I have seen what can happen when people don't know it.

As far as "what to wear", the Court's dress code prohibits "shorts, tank tops and flip-flops".  Generally more traditionally conservative clothing is recommended, as opposed to more flashy or revealing items. Family Court is simply not the place to show off cleavage, tattoos, chest hair, etc.

Now, does all that mean that clients should wear "Sunday attire" (suits, ties, dresses, etc.)?  I don't necessarily think so.  The guiding principles that I suggest to my clients are that they wear something that looks nice but wear what makes them feel comfortable.  

In other words, if my client is not used to wearing a suit and tie, doing so just for a hearing may make him appear very uncomfortable – which does not make a good impression the Court, no matter how dapper his attire may be. Sometimes, it is better just to wear a nice collared shirt and a pair of khakis, and seem more at ease.

As far as "how to act" at hearings, there is less latitude.  This is an important judicial proceeding – one that could affect your children, your finances, your life.  You should without a doubt be sober, quiet and respectful at all times while in the Courtroom.

You should not make faces, gesture, giggle, or get visibly upset – no matter what is said to you or about you. I understand that it is difficult to sit calmly while the other side says things that you vehemently dispute, but I have seen Judges call down or throw people out of the Courtroom many times because of improper behavior.  Suffice it to say that I have yet to see any such persons prevail at their hearing. 

If my clients need to get information to me during a hearing, I ask them to please write me a note and pass it to me. I have found over the years that if clients whisper in my ear, it is difficult and even impossible to hear what a witness, opposing counsel, or even the Judge is saying. Notes simply work better and often take the same or less time.

Finally, don't don't don't don't don't bring children to Family Court for any contested hearings. There are few things that make a Judge angrier than a parent who brings a young child to Court and attempts to bring the child into the Courtroom.  Children need to be insulated from the Court proceedings, and bringing them to Court does the exact opposite.

Ruth Cate, a friend of mine and excellent attorney in her own right, created a form that she gives to her clients to address these issues.  She has graciously agreed for me to share this document, because I think it is so helpful. There are many other helpful tips there, and you can click here to download a copy for yourself. Thanks again to Ruth, both for creating such a thorough form and for allowing me to share it with my readers.

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Senior Partner


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