Many people represent themselves in court these days. Whether you are “self-representing” or have a lawyer, it is very important to appear flexible, managed, and moderate in all of your court hearings.
As much as possible, appear flexible about your requests. When possible, suggest two options, in the event that the court does not grant one of your requests. In legal terms it’s often presented as a request “in the alternative.” For example: “Your honor, I would like to request an equal sharing parenting plan. In the alternative, I would request that I have alternate weekends and every Wednesday overnight and Thursday evening for two hours.” This shows that you are not an HCP (High Conflict Personality), as HCPs often take a very rigid position and fight for it emotionally and blindly.
If the judge disagrees with their position, then the person becomes argumentative, which usually makes things worse. Don’t let this happen to you. Avoid requests that suggest you want to eliminate the other parent from the children’s lives. Instead, focus on the behavior that you are concerned about and seek court orders which will help the other parent improve their behavior as much as possible. When you appear to want to eliminate the other parent, you make yourself look like an HCP parent with all-or-nothing thinking. Then it looks like it’s about you, rather than about the other parent’s behavior. Don’t let this happen to you.
Be careful to appear as managed as possible in court. Avoid emotional arguments or complaints about the other person. It makes it look as though you cannot contain yourself, even in a formal decision-making process such as a courtroom. The judge can just imagine what you are like at home with the children, if you can’t contain yourself at court. I have even had cases in which one of the parents ran out of the courtroom before the hearing was over, because they could not contain their emotions. If you prepare yourself to cope with being upset, then you are less likely to get as upset – especially since court is unpredictable. It’s better to practice being matter-of-fact in your presentation to the court. A reasonable person is much more persuasive, because they seem reasonable about important matters, so it will appear that they must be reasonable at home with the children. Practice what you are going to say at court with a friend or your attorney. Ask them to gently challenge you during your presentation, as judges will often interrupt with questions before you are done. Don’t take it personally, that’s just how they are.
However, if you have facts about the other parent’s concerning behavior, make sure to present them to the court. Don’t be too passive either. But present them in a matter-of-fact way, rather than with unmanaged emotions. Avoid labeling the HCP parent as an “HCP parent” or “personality-disordered parent.” Leave that up to the professionals to decide. Just assertively provide a description of the behavior that concerns you. Be moderate in all your behaviors, including parenting exchanges, telephone calls, emails, and so forth. It is amazing how many emails end up in court documents, to show how extreme the other person is. I’ve been at conferences where judges or lawyers have publicly read examples of horrible emails. Since they are not confidential, they are subject to exposure in open court. I once had a client have his parenting time reduced, because his extreme language in his email correspondence made it appear that he was less responsible and not a good role-model for his children.
Remember, everything you do while you are going through a divorce can be potentially held against you in court. A shove or yelling incident can turn into the basis for a restraining order and limiting your parenting time with your child or children. Children do much better when parents are able to talk and make agreements, without going to court.