6 Habits That Make Parents Lose Credibility in Family Court, According to a Family Law Attorney

Family court is stressful enough. Don't make it more so by making one of these mistakes.

Whether there for a divorce hearing or to handle a custody agreement, family court is a charged and emotional situation for everyone involved. It makes sense: in that room, a decision will likely be made that will drastically change the course of your life. In order to keep the process as stress-free as possible, there are some very basic things that parents should never do. We spoke to Christopher X. Maher, a family law attorney who has been practicing in Putnam County for more than 30 years, to get a rundown of the major courtroom errors you should avoid.

Losing Your Cool

Emotions run high in family court, but Maher advises to never let them boil over. The eyes of the court are on you and even the smallest blowup can have long-lasting implications. “It’s always a difficult situation because it’s most of the time a male and a female who started out in a relationship where they cared for or even loved each other, and it has devolved to what it is now in court, which is the ash heap of that relationship,” he says. “And there’s generally a child, or children involved.” Maher adds that you generally see people get very volatile and flamboyant, getting their angst and anger going, which is why court officers are so quick to react in family court. “Things can go very, very wrong, very very quickly.”

Posting Inappropriate Content on Social Media

When you’re dealing with a family court proceeding, your every move is being scrutinized, even when you’re not in the courtroom. And that means that anything you do that’s even remotely out of line can come back to haunt you — especially on social media. “It amazes and appalls me at the things that people put on social media,” Maher says. “Especially when you’re a litigate in court trying to be virtuous in front of a judge, swearing and protesting your sobriety from sunup to sundown and suddenly somebody finds those pictures. There’s no way to unring that bell.”

Running Down Your Spouse to Your Kids

If there’s bad blood with an ex, it’s natural to want to vent to someone about him or her, but never, ever let that someone be your kids. “In a family court case, the judge is always the jury,” Maher says. “There is no such thing as a jury trial in family court, and the biggest no-no in family court is one parent badmouthing the other parent. And, if you’re familiar with the Children’s Bill of Rights, the child has a right to not be subjected to that. Judges are not interested in hearing, ‘I was just telling Suzie that Mommy has a new boyfriend so she’d know.’ They don’t want to hear it. I always tell my clients, ‘If you can’t keep the focus on you, then there’s something wrong with you.’”

Bringing Your New Relationship to Court

Maybe you think you need your new girlfriend or boyfriend to come with you to court for some kind of moral support, but having him or her there can send a bad message and inflame the situation. “That’s your way of giving your spouse the middle finger,” says Maher. “If you’re an adult, you don’t bring your whole extended family. Your mother, your father, your next-door neighbor, the cop down the street, because nobody’s interested. You come like the adult you are and you sit down.”

Not Staying Clean or Sober

“I don’t care what county you’re in, that judge will always err on the side of caution and send you to wherever you can get drug-tested immediately,” says Maher. “And you would be stunned how many times the virtuous parent comes back testing positive for Oxycontin without a prescription or alcohol in their system and they’re in court at 9:30 in the morning, which means that they were either drinking that morning or drinking to excess over the last couple of days.”

Dressing Inappropriately

Appearances matter in court and guys who show up wearing tank tops or women who show up in too-short miniskirts will send the wrong message to the judge, not to mention everyone else in the courtroom. “If I showed up to court in what I wanted to show up in, I would have my cowboy boots, jeans, and a work shirt and I would never shave or cut my hair,” says Maher. “Because that’s what I want to do. But if I did that, you’d go nuts. You want me to look like the nerdy lawyer that I am, because you don’t want my apparel and my appearance to be a distraction.”