People often make snap judgments about others. Sometimes, if they take the time to get to know the individuals, they may revise their initial opinions. But far more often, their interactions are too limited to allow for much additional insight.
Such is usually the case in custody hearings. Unless the family law judge has prior experience dealing with the parties involved in contested custody cases, he or she has to render a decision based on the best interests of the child from the impression the individuals make in their brief appearances in court.
Making a good impression is key
Look at it this way — if you were a judge, to whom would you award custody of a vulnerable child? The parent who arrives late to court with a bad case of bed head, sporting visible tattoos and piercings while wearing dirty jeans and flip-flops, or the on-time parent arriving in a dress suit and closed-toe shoes?
Both may be good people, but the latter presents him- or herself in the best light possible, while the former appears not to care very much about the outcome of the proceedings. The tardy, carelessly-dressed parent may show the same careless attitude toward his or her child's safety should the parent be granted custody or unfettered visitation.
Learn how your attitude and appearance in court can positively or negatively impact your chances of being granted custody of, or liberal visitation with, your children.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T (got to have a little bit)
Courtroom proceedings are serious, and while it may be natural to want to giggle from nervousness, this should be strongly discouraged. If you are in court for a custody hearing (or anything else, for that matter), it is extremely important to exercise proper courtroom decorum at all times.
That means respecting the judge, opposing counsel and all officers of the court. That respect should also extend to your child's other parent. You will not win points with the judge for treating your former partner dismissively or rudely.
You also need to demonstrate respect for the court's rules. This means no outbursts or utterances in the courtroom. Your attorney is your mouthpiece and will speak for you unless you are on the witness stand or the judge addresses you directly. If you need to discuss something with your attorney, write it in a note or briefly confer in whispers.
Only answer what is asked
Talkative witnesses can tank a case faster than a ballistic missile. Whether it's your attorney or opposing counsel, answer questions briefly without elaborating in a contested custody case. Stray remarks should be avoided at all costs. It's a good idea to role-play a questioning session or two with your attorney prior to the hearing so you can practice answering some of the more difficult questions you might get asked.