Your court attire and appearance in court are worthy of careful consideration. How you’re dressed for court in a divorce, custody or family law case is not only a reflection of your respect for the judge, court and justice system, it’s a reflection of you! Disregard your court attire and appearance and you risk drawing a judge’s attention away from the issues of your case. Or worse yet, you’re left trying to mitigate the impact of a negative first impression. Instead, your court attire and appearance should compliment your case by supporting your statements and validating your arguments.
So, let’s learn what to wear and what not to wear in court so you can put your best foot forward in your divorce or custody case. In addition, find a free court attire and court appearance checklist at the end of this article, along with helpful information about your first court appearance in a divorce, custody or family law case.
What to Wear & What Not to Wear in Divorce or Family Law Court
Court Attire Mistake #1: Informal Attire in the Courtroom
Examples of informal court attire include: Jeans; t-shirts; shorts; sweatpants; jumpsuits; jerseys; sports and/or athletic apparel; tennis shoes; slippers; and flips flops.
Going to court is a formal affair, so you want to look your best. Although you don’t have to buy a suit for court, if you own a professional-looking suit, consider wearing it. However, if you don’t own a suit or it doesn’t fit properly, professional/business attire is just fine.
Dressing for court is similar to dressing for a professional job interview.
- Think dress pants, slacks, or pressed-khaki pants with dress blouses or button-up, collared-shirts under long-sleeved cardigans or blazers.
- In addition, stick with tall, dark-colored socks with close-toed black or brown dress shoes.
Court Attire Mistake #2: Inappropriate and/or Provocative Clothing in Court
Tank tops, mid drift shirts, short skirts, sleeveless and/or low-cut blouses or v-neck sweaters, and tight-fitted or extremely-baggy clothing are inappropriate in a courtroom. Furthermore, clothing with images, messages, or words can be provoking and/or inappropriate and therefore, should also not be worn in a courtroom.
Cover your skin when in the courtroom and all undergarments.
- Bra straps, underwear, boxers, or briefs should not be visible at any time in court.
- If necessary, invest in a brown or black dress belt to prevent pants from sagging in the courtroom.
Court Attire Mistake #3: Poor Personal Hygiene and/or Ragged Appearance in Court
Strong body odor, bad breathe, greasy and/or unruly hair, a scraggly-looking beard, dirty finger nails, scuffed shoes, etc… all leave an unfavorable impression on a judge.
For example, imagine a parent (who is arguing for more parenting time with his/her child) enters court in wrinkled, mismatched, and stained clothing, with long disheveled hair, and sticky fingers, followed by a strong, musty, garlicky stench that wafts throughout the room. A first impression like this could lead the judge to see the parent as irresponsible, neglectful, inconsiderate, reckless, inept, etc… With such a negative first impression, it’s much more difficult for the parent to present and be viewed by the judge as a competent and qualified co-parent. This is due to the fact that, any arguments of competency on the parent’s behalf will strongly contradict and conflict with the image s/he initially portrayed to the judge. After all, when actions don’t match words, we tend to view a person’s actions to be more reliable, honest, and a better representation of the truth, or their “real” character.
Clothes should be freshly-laundered, ironed, and in good-condition.
- Do not wear anything that has holes, tears or visible stains.
- Shirts should be neatly tucked-in before entering the courtroom.
- Shoelaces should be tied.
- Clean and polish dress shoes the night before your court appearance.
Attend to personal hygiene the morning of your court appearance.
- On the day of your court appearance, shower and wash your hair.
- Hair should be combed and neatly-cut or styled. Your hair should not hang in your face or obstruct your eyesight. If you’re constantly tucking-in bangs or brushing hair out of your face, it’s very distracting for you and a judge.
- Brush your teeth and if necessary, use a breath mint, but finish it before going into court.
- Trim and scrub finger nails and remove any visible dirt on your hands before appearing in court.
- Shave facial hair, or make sure all facial hair is neatly-trimmed and combed.
- Apply deodorant, but avoid spraying colognes or perfumes, or applying scented after-shave products or body lotions, as this can also be distracting.
Court Attire Mistake #4: Concealing Accessories in the Courtroom
Concealing accessories and a lack of eye contact can signify a lack of respect or sincerity to a judge. Having to be asked to remove your sunglasses or hat by a court official is an awkward encounter, and certainly doesn’t serve you in your divorce or custody case. Hats of any kind (baseball caps, top hats, winter stocking caps, “beanies”, cowboy hats, etc…), along with hoods, and heavy jackets should not be worn in a courtroom.
Don’t wear any head gear (such as, baseball caps, headphones, bluetooth pieces, etc…) before appearing in court.
- That way, your hair will stay neat for court and you won’t have to worry about remembering to take anything off before entering the courtroom. However, if the weather necessitates it, just make sure that all hats, earmuffs, sunglasses, hoods, etc… are removed and properly put away before entering the courtroom.
Court Attire Mistake #5: Distracting Accessories and/or Flashy Appearance in Court
Make-up, jewelry, body piercings, shoes, tattoos, colors, electronics, phones, food and beverages, chewing gum, e-cigarettes, pocket change, extravagant purses, etc… can all be distracting in a court room. In addition, wearing political buttons, club pins, college rings, expensive jewelry, designer handbags, etc… can all trigger prejudice or bias.
As for your appearance in court, aim for a conservative and neutral look.
- Facial make-up should be modest, and stick with neutral tones and light colors.
- Avoid bright, bold or flashy colors and patterns. Instead, stick with solid colors of white, navy, gray, and the like to be taken more seriously.
- Although tattoos and body piercings are more common today, temporarily remove any facial piercings and cover all tattoos (or as much as possible) when in court.
Next, limit unnecessary noise.
- Avoid wearing large chains, cufflinks, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings to court.
- Don’t have loose change and/or multiple keys in your pocket that bang against each other and jingle when you walk.
- Leaving your cell phone on vibrate is often still audible and therefore, can become a distraction. Instead, put your cell phone on “silent” mode and make sure that it’s put away when you’re in court.
- There is no drinking, smoking or eating in a courtroom, which includes the use of e-cigarettes and chewing bubble gum.
Lastly, minimize disorganization and distraction.
- Have any court documents neatly organized and properly filed in a professional-looking briefcase or folder.
- If you have a divorce lawyer or family law attorney, talk with him/her ahead of time, as s/he can bring, carry, store and organize any required court documents for you.
Hopefully, you’re feeling pretty confident now in terms of knowing what to wear and what not to wear in court. However, if you have any doubts or questions about your court attire or court appearance, you can always check with your divorce or family law attorney as well.
For a divorce, custody, or parenting time case, your first court appearance will most likely be something known as, the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). You should receive a notice from the court, or from your divorce or family law attorney about the ICMC. If you don’t have a divorce or family law attorney, remember that your Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) Data Sheet needs to be filed with the court and the other party ahead of time.
Check out Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) and Notice of Initial Case Management Conference for more tips and information to prepare you for your first court appearance with the judge in your divorce, parenting time or custody case.