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Family Law

Preparing for family court

By August 1, 2016No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

You may wish to avoid going to family court, but if proceedings have been issued unfortunately they can’t be ignored. Even if you are negotiating to try to resolve matters in the meantime, you’ll still need to prepare for court in parallel, in case negotiations are not successful. Here are some tips that may help you manage the often stressful nature of attending court.

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. As well as bringing all your documents, you may find it helpful to bring a notepad and pen.

Know where to go and when

Knowing exactly where you need to go can 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. Aim to arrive at least half an hour early. Arrange to meet your solicitor at a pre-agreed place 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.

Take a friend

Taking a friend or family member who is over 18 to court with you can help reduce anxiety (though taking a new partner is not a good idea). Third parties can often be more objective in digesting information and be a helpful sounding board.

Make arrangements for childcare

You will need to make other arrangements for your children’s care for when you come to court. If your child does need to attend court (to speak to a family consultant or judicial officer), check with court staff prior to your day to see whether any childcare arrangements need to be made.

Have a good breakfast

This may seem trivial but since court is usually quite a draining experience, it’s important to nourish yourself to be able to make good decisions and make it through the long day ahead.

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.

Courtroom etiquette

Turn off electronic devices and phones, remove hats or sunglasses (unless for medical or religious reasons) and do not bring food or drink. Recording devices are also not permitted unless you have permission of the judicial officer.

Stand each time the court commences or adjourns (court officers will announce this by saying “all rise” or “please stand”). Stand also whenever you are talking to the judge or the judge is talking to you.

In the Family Court, the judicial officer hearing your case will either be a judge, or registrar. In the Federal Circuit Court, the judicial officer will be a judge and, for divorce hearings, a registrar. The court officer or associate can tell you who is hearing your case. You should address a judge as ‘Your Honour’ and a registrar as ‘Registrar’.

Speak clearly and politely to the judicial officer. Do not address comments to other people in the courtroom, point or use abusive language, or raise your voice or shout.

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.

Staying focussed during the hearing

Take notes when the judge or other parties are talking.  Take your time, and ask for a break if you need one.

Staying safe

You may have concerns about your safety while attending court. If so, make sure you call the family courts on 1300 352 000 before your hearing, so that you can discuss implementing safety arrangements for while you are at court. See http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/reports-and-publications/publications/family+violence/fears-for-safety-when-attending-court for more details. Make sure you tell court staff immediately if you do not feel safe at court.

You can read more about preparing for court, especially if you do not have a lawyer, here: http://www.courtnetwork.com.au/files/Court%20Network%20Resource%20Booklet(2).pdf

Do you have a family law matter that looks like it will need to go to court to be resolved? Please contact Cristina Huesch or one of our solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 for advice.

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