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A Father's Guide To Personal Appearance And Self-Conduct In Family Court

CLOTHING:

Texas courts are among the most conservative in the nation, a fact that should be considered when deciding what to wear into the courtroom. A good first impression. Clothing should be selected to convey the message that "I care about my appearance because I care about myself, and I also care about my children."

Shabby clothes can suggest that you lack the funds to take care of your children, thereby preventing you from being appointed as a managing conservator. On the other hand, an overly expensive wardrobe can imply that you can afford to pay everybody attorney fees with the greatest of ease. Try to achieve a look of respectable and financially stable without appearing too well-off. For most of us, the conservative "business" look works best; however, it important to reflect you true socio-economic status to avoid being judged a "liar" because of your clothing. A carpenter shouldn dress like a wall Street broker, and vice versa. Avoid the "high fashion" look and don dress for women-the sexy look is inappropriate for the courtroom. The following suggestions work well for most men in court.

Haircut:

Styling and length of hair shouldn matter, but it does! Judges tend to identify men with shoulder-length hair, ponytails or extreme Afros as anti-establishment and, therefore, not a particularly "good" family man. A good rule-of thumb is the shorter the better. "But I like my hair long!", you may argue. You must decide for yourself whether your hairdo is more important than your parent-child relationship. Hair should be combed into place before entering the courtroom. To many judges, uncombed disheveled hair conveys a message of personality disorganization-a father who is disorderly and unstable.

Facial Hair:

The less, the better. A will-trimmed moustache is generally accepted as "within the norm" but extremes, such as handlebars, drooping sides, and goat-tees will probably be considered anti-establishment. If a beard is worn, it should be short and extremely well-trimmed. A scraggly-looking, uneven beard is likely to be interpreted by most judges as slovenly and irresponsible.

Shirt and Necktie:

Tee-shirts and polo shirts don "cut it" if you want to be taken seriously by the court. They convey a message of disrespect for the court. Wear a white or blue dress shirt that has recently been intimately acquainted with the ironing board. Wear a necktie-best bets are a repeating diagonal stripe or a conservative paisley pattern. Stay away form the "loud" or "neon" colors and the splashy patterns.

Suit:

If you wear a suit, it should fit very will and will pressed. Gray or navy blue is preferable to brown or green. Never wear a cheap suit to court, because they are ill-fitting and guaranteed to make you look ridiculous.

Trousers:

Khaki or gray slacks with a leather belt work will toward achieving the "right look for court", If you find it necessary to wear jeans, they should be fairly new, very clean, and worn with a belt. What at about shorts? No way!!!

Jacket:

A sport coat should blend well with the colors of the whole outfit, and should achieve a "soft" (non-threatening) look. Avoid bright colors and large plaids. A best-bet is a navy blue blazer.

Shoes:

Leather and polished. Slip-on shoes for slacks and jacket; slip-on or laced shoes for a suit. Sneakers and sports-shoes, no matter how expensive, show a lack of respect for the court, and should not be worn. Wear dark socks (preferably navy or gray) that blend with the entire ensemble.

Jewelry:

The less, the better! Avoid large, flashy rings, No bracelets. No visible neck chains. If you sometimes wear an earring, leave it at home--don invite the judge to think you a gypsy rover.

Western Wear:

Unless you are a rancher appearing in a rural court, leave the "Drugstore Cowboy" outfit in the closet.

BODY SIGNALS

Although some people get carried-away with ascribing various "meanings" to certain body postures, there are few things that you should refrain from, to avoid being branded by the judge in a negative fashion.

Don't cross your arms across your chest (message: defiant).

Don't clench your fists (message: Provocative, violent, ready to fight).

Don't stand with your hands clasped across the groin (message: Self-defensive; vulnerable).

Don't look down at the floor unless you dropped something (message: Dazed or guilty).

Don't shift your weight from one foot to the other (message: Nervous, insecure, lacking self-confidence).

Don't sprawl-out over two or three chairs when seated (message: Lack of respect for the court).

Don't lean forward with elbows on the knees (message: Bored).

The best standing posture is straight up with shoulders back, chest out, and unclenched hands hanging straight at the sides. Head should be level, so that you are looking straight-ahead. Somewhere between a military and -ease stance. Neither too rigid nor too loose.

When seated, keep the hands to your sides, in your lap, or on the table. One foot slightly in front of the other, or legs crossed. Look straight ahead and try to appear relaxed, confident, and controlled.

SPEAKING:

Speak-up so that you can be heard. If you are normally soft-spoken, practice projecting your voice. If you tend to mumble, pay close attention to enunciating your words clearly and distinctly.

Always preface (or end) your statements to the judge with "Your Honor" The less formal "Yes, sir" is not particularly appreciated, and many female judges will take offense at "Yes, ma'am". Never address the judge with expressions such as "Yo, Judge!" (It has happened in a Dallas court!)

When addressing the judge, make prolonged eye contact. Eyes darting-around the room, or intermittent eye contact may be interpreted to mean that you are "shifty" or untrustworthy. (Be aware that the attorney for the opposing party wants you to make prolonged eye contact with him/her during cross-examination. Attorneys often use that technique to build-up your trust, just before leading you down the primrose path of questions cleverly designed to make you testify against yourself without realizing what you are doing! There is no law requiring you to make prolonged eye contact with the attorney for the opposing party.)

MISCELLANEOUS:

Conduct yourself with the dignity that the judge expects in the court. If you enter the courtroom grinning and waving to your friends, the judge first impression of you will be that you are cocky or arrogant, and it can be very difficult to overcome such a misconception.

Be prepared for court. Know what you are doing, and why you are doing it. )That why you should attend the Thursday night problem-solving sessions, and why you should sit in on some courtroom hearings. Get prepared!) Know exactly what your rights are, and where they are spelled-out. Indeed, you may have a copy of Texas Family Code and the Texas rules of Court in front of you, with bookmarks at the appropriate places for easy references.

Be organized. Have your outline/notes in front of you with what you want to say, in the order it should be presented. Case history research will help you in getting organized. (That the purpose for the Saturday saw library Class. Be there!)

Portray yourself as the injured party whose rights have been violated, rather than the angry person who has "just had it" with the system. A chip-on-the-shoulder attitude has no place on the courtroom.

If the opposing party makes a spectacle of herself/himself in the courtroom (emotional outbursts, inappropriate language, etc.) don't lose your cool! Refrain from laughing or gloating visible; look just a bit concerned about their apparent instability.

Never have a cocktail "to take the edge off" before a hearing.

Fathers For Equal Rights is such a great help to people in need!
  -- Joe & Rachel B. - Fort Worth, TX

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