Do you know what's expected of you if you end up in Court for a family law matter?
If you are going through family law proceedings, it is important that you conduct yourself appropriately. This applies to both represented and self-represented litigants, and to conduct both in and out of court.
Family law matters are inherently emotional and challenging for both parties. It is important to remember that like any other area of law, there are certain ways in which the parties should conduct themselves. Your conduct reflects not only your willingness to reach a timely agreement, but also your acknowledgment of the formal process.
Conduct With the Other Party
Whether or not the other party has legal representation, it is important that you conduct yourself in an appropriate manner during both written and face-to-face correspondence.
Both self-represented and represented parties should communicate with the other party in an appropriate manner in all situations. Do not bully, harass, or intimidate the other party.
It is important to keep in mind that the other party is likely to document conversations between the two of you, particularly if they have been heated or argumentative.
Having a good attitude towards Family Court proceedings can result in a timely and cost-effective result. This is an emotional process at the best of times, however, if you are prepared to compromise when the circumstance permits and are prepared to negotiate appropriately, you may find the process to be positive not only for yourself but for the other party and any children involved as you can achieve progress. At the end of the day, the reason Family Court proceedings can be ongoing for lengthy periods of time is because parties drag their feet and are not genuinely interested in resolving the matter.
If you are able to reach agreement, there is no need to proceed to trial which can be a long and expensive process.
Conduct in Court
Appropriate conduct in the Family Court is of utmost importance.
If you are self-represented, you should ensure that you are prepared for all hearings and court attendances. This usually will include:
– Preparing all court documents and ensuring that all are completed appropriately;
– Preparing everything that is to be used as evidence;
– Arranging for witnesses to attend court;
– Arranging for your children to be looked after, as they are not permitted to be in court unless ordered by the Court; and
– Organising all documents in an easy-to-follow and chronological order so that you can refer to them during the hearing.
Where your lawyer is not in a position to arrange some of the above, e.g. arranging for child care, you must ensure that you are aware of your responsibility for such arrangements.
It is important to understand what is involved in Family Court proceedings, as there are a number of steps involved that may be confusing at first glance. If you have engaged the services of a solicitor, ask your solicitor what something means if you do not understand it. If you are self-represented, you should endeavour to educate yourself as much as possible. You can do so by utilising reputable sources such as the Family Court website, the Legal Aid website which provides informative documents for self-represented litigants and where possible the Duty Solicitor at court.
There are no rules regarding what to wear at the Family Court, however, as the Court is a formal place your appearance should be appropriate for that setting.
Arrive to court early. Not only is it disrespectful to the Court to arrive late, it wastes the court’s time and delays proceedings for both yourself and the other party. If you are late and your matter is called on, the Court will not hold your matter for your arrival. It may be dismissed.
Punctuality also extends to the filing of court documents. If a document needs to be filed by a specific date, ensure that it is.
When you are in the presence of a Judge or Magistrate, you should ensure that you listen carefully and speak directly to them, addressing them as “Your Honour”. Do not argue with or interrupt the Judge or Magistrate. Court etiquette, particularly towards the Judge or Magistrate, is important.
Do not speak to, argue with, or interrupt the other side.
When called upon to address the Judge or Magistrate, you must stand and sit when the other side is making their submissions.
When you enter or leave the courtroom, it is appropriate to bow to the Judge or Magistrate’s bench, when the Judge or Magistrate is sitting there.
When the Judge or Magistrate enters the courtroom, you will be instructed to stand. The Judge or Magistrate will bow, you will bow in return, and you must then remain standing until the Judge or Magistrate takes a seat, at which point you may also sit.
Do not eat, drink, chew gum, sleep, have headphones in, or have your mobile phone on. Do not wear hats or sunglasses into the courtroom.