Contrary to popular belief, not many family law matters actually end up going all the way to a final hearing in court. Most of the time, parties can eventually reach agreement themselves, with the help of professionals like mediators along the way. But sometimes, going to court is inevitable. What’s more, even if you are in the middle of settlement negotiations, once proceedings have been started, you will have to continue to get ready for court in a parallel process, just in case your negotiations fail. Although the whole idea of court can feel very daunting, you’ll be best placed to handle the often stressful nature of court proceedings if you familiarise yourself in advance as much as possible with what to expect from a day in court.
Here are our tips for going to court and making it a less anxious experience.
- Be available
This is a little bit of a no-brainer. Not showing up to your court hearing is going to be very counter-productive to your case indeed – so make sure to do whatever is necessary to facilitate you attending your hearing.
- Know where to go and when
Given the pandemic, it may be that you will be ‘attending’ a virtual court hearing held by phone or video conference. You will be instructed in advance on your court’s preferred approach and provided with the necessary links or numbers (make sure you have provided all your correct details). You’ll need to ensure that your WiFi is working well in the area of your home where you will participate in the virtual hearing.
If you are attending an in-person hearing, you need to arrive to court at least half an hour prior to your timeslot. Knowing exactly where you need to go will help alleviate anxiety. Be clear not only on what time the hearing starts, but what time you need to arrive, and exactly where you need to go. See the ‘find a court location’ map on the homepage of the courts’ websites (www.familycourt.gov.au and www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au) to confirm the location of your family law registry. Arrange to meet your solicitor at a pre-agreed place beforehand and ensure you and your solicitor have the correct contact telephone numbers for each other. If you can visit the court in advance, try to do so, as it can make you more comfortable and help you know what to expect.
- Make arrangements for childcare
You will need to make other arrangements for your children’s care, whether you are attending an in-person hearing or whether you will be attending a virtual court hearing. If your child needs to attend court too (to speak to a family consultant or judicial officer), check with court staff prior to your day to see whether any additional childcare arrangements need to be made.
- Understand the purpose and procedure
Make sure you know exactly what a particular hearing is for, and what will and won’t be discussed. You will have received advice from your solicitor about the process and what happens at various stages, but it’s a good idea to review this just before your hearing and make sure your solicitor answers any questions you have and debunks any jargon for you.
- Familiarise yourself with your material
If you have had to provide evidence in the proceedings, read back through it to refresh your memory of what you have said and which documents you have provided. Check that nothing is missing, and that you have provided any additional documents you have been asked to provide. If there is any information which has changed or needs updating, discuss with your solicitor so they can decide whether it needs to be shared with the other party and the court.
- Dress appropriately
Court is a formal place and you need to dress accordingly, but you will also want to be comfortable. Ask your solicitor for further guidance if necessary. Remember that if attending via a video link, you’ll still need to carefully consider your attire—phone hearings of course are more relaxed!
- Courtroom etiquette
Ensure you have turned off all your electronic devices and phones, or if attending virtually, only keep those devices on (and charged!) that you will be using for the hearing.
For an in-person hearing, remove hats or sunglasses (unless for medical or religious reasons) and do not bring food or drink. Stand each time the court commences or adjourns (court officers will announce this by saying “all rise” or “please stand”).
In person, when your hearing is completed, as you leave the courtroom pause at the door briefly and bow to the judicial officer. You should also follow this procedure whenever you enter or leave the courtroom while the court is in session.
- Ensuring accessibility
When you first receive notice of your court hearing, you should let the court know if you have any disabilities that may practically affect the hearing. For instance, those who are deaf may not be able to attend a remote hearing and an in-person hearing might be more suitable in such a case. Likewise, if you will require the assistance of an interpreter, allow the court plenty of prior notice of your requirements.
- Staying safe
If you are attending an in-person hearing, and have any concerns over your safety, you should discuss implementing safety arrangements with your solicitor (such as separate waiting rooms, screens between you in court, or dialling into a court hearing remotely instead). When at court, make sure you tell court staff immediately if you do not feel safe in any way.
Hopefully this blog has helped demystify what the experience of going to court is like. If you need any assistance with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
You might also find these blogs useful in preparing for family court:
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.