Okay, you've got a big day ahead of you. Your lawyer's told you to meet her on the fourth floor of the courthouse at 9 am for the 9:30 calendar call.
First order of business: What to wear. Nothing too casual, nothing too flashy. Revealing too much won't help at all. In fact, it'll annoy everyone. And dressing as if you're broke, when you're not, won't fool anyone. Jeans or sweats only if you want to diss the judge. Men, a business suit works if that's your usual work attire. If not, a sports coat and slacks are fine. Track outfits or shorts won't do it, though. Women, same thing: Business attire (dress, suit, nice skirt and top), or neat casual. No teetery heels, no extreme make-up.
Now, can you get to the courthouse without getting lost? Sure you left enough time to park or for public transport? Because being late is very bad. You don't know if your case will be the first or last to be called, but you don't want to default.
Security is the next hurdle. Not as bad as TSA, but those court security people can be very brusque, especially on Monday mornings. Just do what they tell you and be patient - empty your pockets, put your handbag and briefcase on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed, walk through the metal detectors. No, you can't take cameras and tape recorders (does anyone use those gadgets anymore?) into the courthouse. Yes, you might have to leave your cell
phone with security.
You should leave anything questionable back home, or in your car, or in your lawyer's office. Court officers are law enforcement professionals and are not to be messed with. Hassling with these guys is a guaranteed downer that you won't win. And the courtroom's still ahead of you. You want to make your day in court extra stressful? Didn't think so.
Up on the fourth floor, you're looking for your lawyer and--oh, look! There she is! Wait. Hold on. No running, no shouting. Remember third grade? Same rules only, this time, court officers will enforce them. And they wear guns.
Your team's in a huddle and there's no place to sit. Courthouse staff may get grumpy if you lean on that circa 1940's wooden table with deep grooves penned across its surface. And watch out for that vintage metal chair with the broken leg. You may get lucky and find a seat eventually but, remember, the name of the game right now is hassle avoidance. Find a corner if you can. And here's another rule that's not made to be broken: Voices low, eyes open. You don't know if your spouse's lawyer's paralegal, or the soon-to-be-appointed law guardian, is standing right behind you.
And what if your spouse is lurking just across the hallway, just waiting to push your buttons? Ignore her/him. That's why you're in court, remember? Because the two of you couldn't work it out by yourselves. You start getting into an argument again now, those brusque court officers will be over in a New York minute and they'll be in even a worse mood than before.
So, you've been well-behaved, kept your cool (sort of, even though you've stained your nice clothes with sweat), and checked your watch repeatedly. Still waiting for your case to be called...Where's the ladies'/men's room? Nine times out of ten, your case will be called right after you've gone to the bathroom. Maybe you shouldn't have drunk six cups of coffee already. Maybe you can wait to go at home, where the toilet is clean, where there's three-ply
toilet paper that doesn't rip after you pull one little sheet and plenty of soap and real towels and warm water.
Your case is finally called, and you trail behind your lawyer, who is marching purposefully into the courtroom. You both sit at a big table in front of the judge, while the judge and the clerks and lawyers -- all these strangers in your life -- utter jargon, greetings and mundane directions, while your heart is racing out of control.
This is what you do: Speak aloud only when the judge tells you to. Don't drive your lawyer nuts with scribbled notes and nudges and whispers. Don't glare at your spouse or his/her lawyer. No histrionics, no stage whispers, no rolling eyes or heavy sighs. Here's where you must look like a courteous poker player, revealing nothing but always - always - treating everyone around you with respect. Because, guess what? The judge is judging you, even when
you're not saying a word. Even if your court appearance doesn't go well, or even if it goes fabulously well, you're still the courteous poker player.
Remember, Round Two is just around the corner.
No, it's not just the shoes that matter. What happens when you pass through the front door of the courthouse for the very first time? This article appeared in Huffington Post Divorce on December 14, 2010.
Copyright Terri L. Weiss. All rights reserved.