Even if you've never been to court, you probably have some idea of courtroom etiquette based on popular crime dramas or crime reenactment shows. These shows, however, often fail to accurately portray the importance of certain rules and behaviors, especially in the family court setting. Etiquette is particularly important in the family courts, where the judge's discretion, as well as your character and appearance, play a huge role in critical decisions such as custody and spousal support.
Courtroom etiquette may vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction and type of hearing, but there are some basic rules that you should always follow. One of the most important rules concerns your appearance, which should always be modest and conservative. Most court websites do list specific dress codes, but as a general rule, avoid casual wear like sneakers, sandals, shorts, sweatshirts and tank tops. Your lawyer can give you further guidance on what your specific court system requires, but you should stick to conservative apparel in basic colors and patterns. You should also take care not to wear too much jewelry or other flashy accessories, which could give off the wrong impression of your character or lifestyle.
Another obvious, yet often neglected rule of etiquette is punctuality. When heading to court, you should follow the rule of airport travel: arrive well in advance. While you don't need to be there two hours ahead of time, you should leave early enough to account for traffic, parking issues, and finding your way around the courthouse. Navigating the courthouse is much tougher than you may think. It's easy to get lost with so many similar corridors and doorways, and it's not uncommon for there to be long waits at the metal detectors and elevators. Your attorney should arrange to meet with you ahead of time in a predetermined location in order to go over any last minute questions or concerns, and to help calm your nerves.
Once you're inside the courtroom, prepare to be silent unless you are spoken to by the judge. Being silent means much more than “not talking”; chewing gum, rustling papers, sipping water -- these innocuous activities are problematic in courtrooms that use electronic recording devices (a common practice in New Jersey). Special attention should be taken to ensure that cell phone are truly silent. Many people put their phones on vibrate, which would not normally be heard in most public settings. Because courtrooms tend to be so quiet, it is possible that the judge may hear your phone vibrate. You may also have special alerts and ringtones for various email and social media apps, which may not be turned off while your phone is on vibrate. To be on the safe side, you really should turn your phone off, or at least be sure to silence both your ring tone and system notifications.
For more information on courtroom etiquette in the New Jersey family courts, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.