Most of us are familiar with basic rules of court etiquette, such as not talking unless spoken to. Cell phones should be turned off, or at least, on silent. Chewing gum and candy should be saved for after the proceedings. But there are many finer points of courtroom etiquette that you need to be aware of if you are facing a court hearing. Not being aware of these “silent rules” can make a bad impression on the judge, which is the last thing you want to do at a divorce proceeding.
Let's take cell phone and mobile devices, for example. Even if it's turned off or silenced, you may be tempted to look at it for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to check the date or time; perhaps you want to be on the lookout for texts from your babysitter. No matter the intent, it's best to avoid directing your gaze downward to your phone. Judges vary on how they feel about such behavior, but more importantly, it's hard to limit one's contact with a device when it's close at hand. We're so used to, perhaps even addicted, to our mobile devices that it's hard to compartmentalize when and how we use them. Regardless of each individual judge's policy, no judge likes a litigant whose attention seems divided. Thus, it's best to keep your cell phone turned off and tucked away from view.
The next etiquette breach concerns food and drink, including water. Yes, water – which we take for granted as a basic necessity. Some judges allow a bottle of water, but some do not. One of the reasons for why any food or drink is forbidden is the noise that results from consuming them. Such noises may be picked up by audio recording equipment if your hearing is being taped. Speaking of recordings, don't use your cell phone to record the proceedings or take photos inside the courtroom. You may think this is allowed because of NJ's laws permitting the recording of conversations in which you are a direct participant. However, a court hearing is not a “conversation”, even if you speak directly with the judge.
Speaking with the judge is another point of etiquette that sometimes confuses people. You shouldn't have to talk if you have an attorney, but there are times when the judge may ask you a direct question. In addition to “Your Honor”, you can use “Sir” or “M'am” to address them, but avoid using “Judge”. The temptation to do this may stem from the popularity of reality shows like Judge Judy, but judges in the real world want to be addressed with formality. Other rules, however, are more subjective depending on the judge and court system. An experienced attorney is your best resource for questions on how to behave in court. Family courts, in particular, make concessions for litigants like nursing mothers, but you should never make assumptions about what is, or isn't allowed in the courtroom.