Preparing for a family court hearing? It can be a stressful and emotionally-fulled time in the lead up to a court hearing. However, it’s important to know what to expect and how to prepare for your court hearing in order to achieve the best outcome.
This article is intended to help you whether you are representing yourself in a court hearing or are going to have legal representation. We have set out below some of the things that you should do preparing for Court as well as things to do and things to avoid in the courtroom.
You will need to be sure that you have prepared and filed with the Court within the required time all of the documents that are required for your next hearing. If you are self representing, it will help you to find what you need when you are before the Court if your files are organised and clearly marked. Make sure too that you have a pen and note pad with you. If you have not been in a court before, it can help put you at your ease if you sit in a courtroom before your hearing so that you can see the court layout and understand something of the court process. Most court hearings are heard in open court so that you are permitted to enter the court.
What to wear in Court
The court is a formal place so you should dress accordingly. If you are a man, this does not mean having to wear a suit but long trousers, a shirt and appropriate shoes are a good idea. For women, a neat dress or long pants and shirt would be appropriate to wear.
Make other arrangements for your children
You should make arrangements for your children’s care for the day when you come to court. Court is not generally an appropriate place for children.
However, if as a result of a Court Order, your child needs to attend court to speak to a family consultant or judicial officer, you should check with court staff or through your solicitors in advance whether any child-care arrangements need to be made for the day.
Family and friends
You may wish to bring an adult family member or adult friend with you on the day in Court for support. There may be quite a bit of time that day spent waiting for your case to be called before the Judge or Registrar so it can be helpful to have some company. However, you should know that it is only your solicitors or if you are self represented, you, who may speak on your behalf in Court unless Court approval is obtained.
We suggest that you arrive at Court at least 30 minutes before the time set down for the hearing and once there, locate the Court where your case will be heard.
There is generally a duty lawyer available (if you are eligible for assistance) to assist you on the day of your court hearing but you should be aware that their time is limited.
Inside the courtroom
The court officer or associate will generally appear outside the courtroom some time before the time that your case is set down for hearing. If you are self representing, before you enter the courtroom, you should present yourself to the court officer or associate and give them your name and let them know that you are self representing. If you have solicitors acting for you, they will inform the court officer or associate of your presence.
Once inside the courtroom, you will have to wait for your case to be called as there may be a number of cases listed on the same day. During this time, you should avoid talking whilst the Court is in session. You will need to stand each time that the Court commences or adjourns. The court officer or associate will signal the appropriate time to stand by saying ‘All rise’ or ‘Please stand’.
When your case is called and addressing the Court
When you hear the court officer or associate call your case, you should stand and sit in the place where your solicitors indicate behind them at the bar table.
If you are self representing, you should walk to the bar table as the court officer or associate directs. You will need to take your files and paperwork with you but be careful not to put any bags or cases on the bar table.
If you are self representing, you should stand whilst you and the other parties announce themselves. You announce yourself by stating your name and whether you are the applicant or respondent.
In the Family Court, either a judge or registrar will hear your case. In the Federal Circuit Court, a judge or for divorce hearings, a registrar, will hear your case. You should address a judge as ‘Your Honour’ and a registrar as ‘Registrar’.
Where you are self representing, you should stand each time that you are speaking or being spoken to in Court unless the Court directs you otherwise. You should be careful to speak clearly and politely and not to address any person other than the judge or registrar. You should not raise your voice and your face should be impartial no matter that the other party or his or her Counsel may make comments with which you do not agree.
When Orders are made and leaving the courtroom
The judicial officer will state the orders that are made and reasons given. Those orders will not be issued in hard copy until some time after the hearing so it is important if you are self representing that you write them down when they are being announced as well as reasons given. If you miss hearing part of the orders or are uncertain as to what was said, whilst you are still at the bar table, you should ask for the orders to be repeated once the judicial officer has finished speaking. If you do not understand any of the orders, you should ask the judicial officer to explain their meaning.
If a decision is reserved or held over for another time or date, you must attend court when the decision is handed down.
The Orders made will generally state the time and date for the next hearing if your case is ongoing. Once orders on a particular day are made, you can leave the bar table and the courtroom. If the Court is still in session after your matter is heard, as you leave the courtroom (and any time that you enter or leave the courtroom when the Court is in session), you should pause briefly at the door briefly and nod to the judicial officer. If your case is the last to be heard on the day, you should stand at the bar table while the judicial officer leaves the bench.
If you have any worries about your safety, you should let the Court know at least two days in advance of any court date. The Court can assist with your safety when attending court. You can inform the Court by calling 1300 352 000 and speak with a Client Service Officer who will decide what arrangements are needed for your safety at Court. You must tell the Court in advance if there is a current family violence or protection order.
If you have concerns about your safety outside the Court or any questions about family violence, you should contact the police or seek legal advice about obtaining a Protection order.
If you’re looking for legal representation in a family court hearing or would like some legal advice, our family lawyers are happy to help. We even offer free 15 minute consultations over the phone.