We’ve all heard how important it is to make a good first impression, whether on a job interview or a first date. Research shows that humans make decisions about other people within mere seconds of first seeing them. The same applies in the courtroom - after all, Judges are human too. While this does not suggest that the Judge will not decide your case objectively. The point is not to risk misconceptions based on your appearance, rather than the merits of your case. You are probably already nervous about your day in court and how your divorce or custody case will play out, and the last thing you should be worrying about is your appearance.
Who cares what I wear to Court?
The Judge cares. Dressing and acting seriously show the Judge that you understand the gravity of the situation. You want to show that you RESPECT the courtroom, the judge and court staff, and your appearance and demeanor will reflect that at a glance. Especially in a custody case, it is important to appear mature, responsible and put together. Often in these matters, things come down to “he said, she said” and the only evidence to support your position may be your testimony. When your appearance helps to build you credibility, the Judge will be more likely to believe your version of the story. If you appear as if you are taking this seriously, that you respect the court process, and are responsible, it can help the Judge believe what you are saying.
What should I wear to Court?
The courthouse is not a casual event or fashion show. Choose something you would wear on an important job interview, in an office setting, or to church/synagogue. Dress conservatively: if the outfit you chose is one that you would wear out on a Saturday night, you picked the wrong outfit. Wear clothing that looks neat and fits well (not too big, not too small). Avoid flip-flops, sneakers, jeans, athletic clothing of any kind (no yoga pants, tee-shirts, tank tops, shorts, etc.). Do not wear sunglasses or hats in the courtroom. If you are required to wear sunglasses for medical purposes or cover your hair for religious purposes you should contact your lawyer ahead of time to ask for guidance on the issue. The Judge may be conservative, having strict ideas about appropriate courtroom attire. If you have body piercings and can remove them, you should do so. If you have tattoos that can be covered with clothing, you should do so.
Men should choose a dark suit, collared shirt, dress shoes and a tie when possible, and preferably be clean shaven. If you have a beard and/or mustache it should be trimmed and neat.
Women should also choose a dark suit (pants/skirt), a dark non-patterned dress or dark pants with a long sleeve blouse and dress shoes. Pumps should have a moderate height heel. Avoid tight, revealing clothing. Accessorize in moderation and keep your makeup looking natural. Natural hair coloring is preferable to rainbow colored locks, but if brushed and neatly pulled back you should be okay. If you can dye your hair back to a natural color for the duration of the court case, it is worthwhile.
It is a misconception that your appearance does not matter if you have an attorney representing you in court. While your attorney will do everything in their power to portray you in a favorable light, much of the evidence in a custody or divorce case will be based on your testimony and your appearance can make their job easier, not harder.
How should I act in court?
The most important accessory is your demeanor. Be respectful and polite to court personnel and staff. Do not chew gum. Do not talk on your cellphone in the courtroom, in fact, do not leave your ringer on. Do not use profanity. The courtroom is not the place to pick a fight with your soon to be ex-spouse. You should assume the Judge’s court officers and staff tell him or her everything they see and hear when the Judge is not on the bench. The Judge only sees you for a short period of time, even during a trial, so it is essential to make a good first impression. It can be a major disadvantage if the Judge gets a false impression of you, as you will likely not have much time to redeem yourself.
While all of this may seem a bit antiquated, if you follow the simple rules outlined above you can be confident that you are not making a bad first impression and that the Judge will be concentrating on what really matters, your case.