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Court etiquette

When you go to family court, you will be focused on thinking about your case.

You will likely be nervous about what lies ahead for your day. You may be worried about seeing your ex-partner or his friends or members of his family. You may also be anxious about logistical details like finding the washroom, getting to the right courtroom, knowing where you can go to have a smoke, and so on.

In the midst of all of this, good manners may be the last thing on your mind. However, your case will move along more smoothly and you may feel more comfortable while you are at court if you follow a few informal courthouse rules of etiquette.

  • You do not have to dress in fancy or expensive clothes when you go to court. In fact, you will be more comfortable if you wear clothes you are already used to.

    Try to wear clothes that you would wear to a job interview. In other words, don’t look like you just jumped out of bed and are still wearing your pyjamas, and don’t look like you are on your way to a nightclub.

  • Don’t wear sunglasses or a hat into the courtroom; if you do, you will be asked to remove them, and some judges can be quite fierce-sounding when they ask you to do this. You should also not chew gum or suck on candy or bring food or drinks into the courtroom.
  • While you can and should have your cell phone with you while you are at court, it must be turned off inside the courtroom. This means turned OFF and not just turned to vibrate.
  • Bring a pen and some paper with you so you can write notes to your lawyer or Family Court Support Worker if you need to tell them something rather than whispering to them while the judge is in the courtroom.
  • Because you may have to go through security to get into the courthouse, bring only what you need for the day. Remove any sharp objects such as a pocket knife from your purse or bag. Do not bring any weapons to the courthouse.
  • While you are in the courtroom, you should stand when the judge enters or leaves the room. If you talk to the judge, you should begin your statement with “Your Honour.”
  • Difficult as it may be, do your best to avoid showing extreme emotions, especially anger. You may have every right to be very angry, but try to avoid showing that this is how you feel. Keep your body language and facial expressions pleasant but neutral.
  • Avoid getting drawn into any kind of argument, heated discussion or physical altercation with your ex-partner. No matter how much he tries to bait you, resist the temptation to engage with him. If you are the one to walk away, it will show any witnesses that you are not the aggressive or violent one.

    Make sure any support people (especially friends or family members) who come to court with you understand that they should also avoid any confrontations with your ex-partner or his friends or family.

  • Do not bring your children to court with you. There is no child care at family court and children cannot come into the courtroom, so there will be nowhere for them to be while you are dealing with your case. Even if you have a friend or family member who offers to come with you to take care of the children, spending hours at family court is not good for children.

    The exception to this may be if you have a very young infant whom you are breastfeeding, but even in this case, you should have someone reliable with you who can take care of the baby while you are in the courtroom.