Going to divorce court was always a painful ordeal for me becauseÂ I feared the worst, and then I usually reaped what I sowed. If I had been better advised, I would have gone in with all the personal shields and emotional weapons I could muster.Â Even though my therapist was helpful in preparing me for court, she wasnâ€™t there with me in court. Â
Before each hearing I had stomachaches, panic attacks, and the runs. But like it or not, I had to go to court to face the issues surrounding the marriage contract, alimony, and most important, child custody and support.Â Each hearing seemed more difficult than the previous, until by the final hearing for the divorce itself, I barely survived emotionally.
If you can handle the divorce out of court through mediation (or some other form of non-court counseling), I highly recommend this path, because it is often less painful with a joint agreement drawn up between you, rather than a judgment handed down from the courts.
However, if going to court appears to be you only option, here are some hints for your courtroom confrontations:
- Stay positive. As Louise Hayâ€™s line tells us, think in positive affirmations, such as â€œI can do this!â€ Keep the affirmation on a pad in front of you during the court procedures. (I wish someone had given me this advice!)
- Make sure your lawyer reviews all the points to be covered in any court session.Â Take a tape recorder to his office so you can review his/her words again before the actual date.Â Usually your mind is racing and taking notes or taking a tape recorder will make Â remembering easier.
- Ask questions of your lawyer every time you donâ€™t understand something.Â Be sure you understand completely what s/he is going to say and do in the courtroom.Â You will have enough surprises from your husbandâ€™s lawyer. You donâ€™t need them from yours.
- Be prepared as much as possible on the academic/legal levels, because you canâ€™t really prepare yourself emotionally. Unfortunately, sometimes the courtroom becomes a war zone, with verbal battles that can injure you emotionally and financially.Â Do your homework, that is, gather all the papers you need, do research on a topic if that is pertinent.Â If this means finding a friend to watch your kids while you study court procedure, and if that will help, do it!Â Go to court with as much information and ammunition as you can.Â
- Dress appropriately—neat and clean, but not over or underdressed.Â Now is not the time for your newest jeans or tightest sweater.Â Look attractive as possible, but also professional. If necessary, buy one courtroom outfit, like a suit, to use each time you go,Â (After the divorce you can throw it out or give it away, if the sight of it makes you sick to your stomach.)
- If possible, take a friend with you. When my girlfriend Molly was going through her divorce, I sat in court as a singular support system.Â Her husbandâ€™s lawyer was ruthless with his questions, andÂ I was in awe of Mollyâ€™s calm answers to his questions, reading from her own research and personal notes.Â She was a good role model for me when my turn came, even though I was not always as calm as she had been.
- During the court proceedings, take notes if necessary. Bring a bottle of water to quench your dry mouth, and take deep breaths often.Â If you need to use the bathroom, ask your lawyer for a short recess. If you need to confer with your lawyer, you can use the notepad to write him or note or whisper quietly to him, as you see fit.Â This is your life; your lawyer is working for you and you have a right to ask questions he may have missed or that come up in the course of the hearing.Â
- Expect your husband to lie or at least tell half-truths.Â He may even think he is telling the truth, and maybe he is, from his perspective.Â Remember, perception is reality.Â He wants out of the marriage and will bend the truth and dance around the issues with his lawyerâ€™s advice and consent. Â
- If your lawyer does not follow through with his or her promises and plans to obtain for you what is legally yours, change lawyers.Â This is a tough call, but you have to weigh your future after the divorce with what your lawyer is not doing to help you get what is legally yours. (If you have a lawyer in the family, ask for some free advice from him or her.)
- If possible, find a lawyer who will take time payments, if money is a major issue. Donâ€™t file for bankruptcy if you can avoid it, because that takes money, too, and then your credit is ruined for years.Â Some lawyers will work on a percentage basis, which may work for you. Most womenâ€™s lifestyles are changed with a divorce because of a reduction in income.Â If you are working full time, you still have expenses from the divorce that you must consider. Â Before you make a final property settlement, get some financial advice.Â My ex went bankrupt, so there were no assets to divide.Â That was simple! But then, of course, I was simply broke!
- Donâ€™t over-invest your emotions in the outcome of each court hearing.Â If you do, you may be even more incapacitated at the next confrontation. Do your best: accept or reject the court decision. If you accept it, move onto the next hurdle.Â If you reject it, ask your lawyer for a new hearing.Â Look to see what you are losing.Â At what cost is it to your aliveness to make the effort? Weigh the physical, mental, and emotional aspects before making big decisions.
Final Note: Each state has its own divorce guidelines.Â Before going to court, you might want to read about your stateâ€™s legal aspects.Â Ask your lawyer where to obtain this information.
Hereâ€™s a short poem about how I sometimes felt while planning for or being in court:
Finding, Minding, Mending
My troubled mind;
Â Â Not losing my mind.
Â Â Working to keep my mind off my troubles.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â My trouble is my mind.
Â Â Â Â Â I need to mind my troubles.
Â Â Â Â Â I need to mend my mind,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Not keep my mind off my troubles.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Findingâ€¦.mendingâ€¦.and minding my mind.