Court Date! What to Wear?!
How to Make the Best Impression on the Judge
You've spent weeks preparing the documents, hours researching online. You have stacks of evidence, reams of paperwork. You finally feel prepared, like you've got all your ducks in a row. You are ready for court. There is only one question remaining. . . . WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO WEAR???
It might seem a minor question, a small concern. But your appearance in court is a factor in the judge's decision. This is partially a conscious observance of your attire and partially an unconscious reaction to several factors that the judge may not even realize he is noticing. You need to ask yourself several questions before deciding what you, and your significant other, should wear to court.
Should you attend court?
The first question is, 'Should I even go to court?" The knee-jerk reaction to this is a resounding "YES!" But that may or may not be the right answer for your situation. Obviously, if you are a party to the action (abuse charges against you, a petition for custody or adoption by you of the child) then you must attend.
If you are to be called as a witness, the court may have rules about whether you can be present in the courtroom during other testimony. But if this is a divorce or custody hearing for an initial court order or modification, the answer is not so cut and dried.
The first question to ask yourself is, "is my state a no-fault divorce state?" If the answer is 'yes', then there really is no harm in your attending the trial or hearing. Your significant other's attorney should prevent the ex-wife's attorney from making any references to you since you are not a party to the action.
If, however, your state allows filing for divorce with 'grounds' then you may be better off not attending if the ex is alleging adultery with you as a ground for divorce. This is especially true if her allegations are false. Your significant other is not going to be able to convince the court he did not commit adultery with his new girlfriend sitting next to him. This is a decision you will have to come to on your own, but be sure to consider all the aspects and potential ramifications before making a final choice.
If you have decided that yes, you will attend court, you have to start to consider what sort of impression you wish to make.
Respect that judge!
It can be tempting when the ex-wife is asking for exorbitant amounts of money to "dress down" so that the judge doesn't think you have money to spare. Resist that temptation. Most judges will tell you that a shabby appearance does not cause them to sympathize with the person. They see it as a lack of respect for the court, the bench, and themselves as judges. They take respect very seriously.
You may think the judge in your case has a "God complex", and is an egotistical jerk. And, you may be right. But that person still has a lot of power over your life right now, and you must give that the respect it deserves.
Part of showing that respect is to dress neatly. Your hair should be clean and trimmed. Your hands should be neat with nails trimmed and clean. Make sure there are not scuffs on your shoes or holes in your stockings.
The same goes for your man. His hair should be clean, freshly cut and neatly styled. His shoes should be clean of dirt and free of scuffs. Once you've ensured that you are neat and well - groomed, you can think about specifics.
What, specifically, you should wear depends in part on the kind of hearing you are attending.
At the trial
If this is the trial, your significant other should dress as his attorney does. A suit is the likely choice, though in some more casual/relaxed areas slacks and a sport coat with a tie may be acceptable. A navy blue suit with a soft blue shirt is a good choice. Navy is a color that imbues the wearer with a sense of importance and power. It is a strong yet subdued color. Soft, light blue and soft, light green have been shown to influence people into thinking the wearer is more vulnerable and sympathetic. This combination will make the wearer seem respectable, honest, strong and vulnerable at the same time.
If he has facial hair, he should consider shaving it. Studies of juries have found that they believe the statements of people without facial hair more often than those of people with facial hair. Psychologists theorize this is because the facial hair obscures the mouth, making the speaker seem like they are 'hiding' something.
Look like an attorney
If you are going to be at the trial as a spectator only, try to dress as female attorneys do for court. Wear subdued colors and a skirt suit. This way you will blend in with the attorneys waiting their turn in the courtroom and will not attract attention as the "girlfriend" in the room. If the ex-wife chooses to 'dress down' to appear more pathetic (as many of them do) this will have the added benefit of making her the "odd one out" and attracting more attention to her poor choice of dress.
If you are going to be called as a witness, consider wearing something in the style of the attorney's dress (such as a shirtdress or skirt suit) but in the soft shades of blue or green. This makes you appear more vulnerable, honest, and un-threatening. Never wear red. While it is the color of power, it also draws attention to you and is a color associated with sex.
If you are the same age as the ex-wife, and have long hair, consider wearing it curled. This is especially true if the judge is male. Studies have shown that curled hair makes males feel more protective of females. If you are younger than the ex, consider wearing long hair in a professional updo, such as a chignon or French twist. This will make you appear older and more mature. If your hair is short, make sure it is professionally styled and trimmed. In either case, wear your hair off your face. Hair obscuring your face has the same effect on perception of honesty as facial hair does for men.
If the hearing is a more minor appearance or modification hearing, you can dress somewhat more casually. Slacks and a button down shirt with tie and jacket are fine for men. Women can wear a skirt and blouse or skirt and sweater.
Pants: Handle with care
As a woman, approach pants with caution. Most courts are still very traditional and female attorneys are not allowed to wear pants. A female attorney observing in federal court was recently removed from the courtroom for wearing pants. While there is certainly no rule against witnesses or clients wearing pants, it is usually best not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Some older judges still feel it is very inappropriate for a woman to wear pants in court, so tread carefully.
Dress as nicely as you can on your budget. Make sure all items are clean and pressed, and that YOU are clean and pressed! At the very least, you won't anger the judge with what he views as a lack of respect for his courtroom and himself. If you are pleading poverty in the hearing, wearing Gucci shoes and carrying a Prada handbag is not advised, but that is no excuse to appear slovenly, shabby, or as if you do not have the greatest measure of respect for the court. Don't fear looking too 'dressy' next to the ex wife. It isn't your appearance the judge will question, but hers.
Good luck, and if you must, go shopping!
QueenOfEverything is SecondWivesCafe.com's former Family Law moderator. She's a paralegal married to an attorney.