Your day in court will be a big day. It is helpful to know what to expect. One of the best ways to find out what to expect is to take some time to visit the courthouse and sit in on some trials – especially family law trials. The BC Supreme Court is open to the public, and you are allowed to enter any courtroom to watch and listen. You can ask a sheriff to help you identify which courtrooms have family law trials.
As you are watching, pay attention to what people say and do. How are questions asked? How do they address the judge and witnesses? Watching a family law trial will help you be prepared for your day in court.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is a good idea to try to write down what you plan to say. You can write an outline, or write every word. Be sure you have notes on the key points of your case. Have a list of questions that you want to ask. Make notes about the points you expect the opposing party will present and how you will challenge this information.
See the Family Law Guidebook - Legal Research for tips on how to make a legal argument. For each of the decisions you want the judge to make, you need to provide the relevant law and case law, present the facts of your case and provide evidence relating to the facts and the law.
Once you have written notes, practice what you will say. Speak out loud. Time yourself. Practice going into your files to pull out supporting documents you want to present. Preparation and practice are key to presenting a strong case.
Gather Documents and Supplies
Make sure that you have all the documents that relate to your case. This might include completed court forms, research notes, court orders, etc. This can quickly add up to a lot of material. Plan how you will bring it all to court. Make sure your material is organized so you know what is where and can reference documents quickly and easily.
At the hearing, you will need to take notes. Bring a pen and notepad. You can use a laptop or tablet (but be sure to turn the sound off).
Plan Your Route
Know how to get to the court. Will you take transit? Will you need to park? Know before you go. Add a buffer to the time you think it will take you from your doorstep to the courtroom. Don’t be late.
Plan to Eat
You cannot eat in the courtroom. However, you can eat in the hallways when there is a break. If you are hungry or have low blood-sugar levels, it can be hard to concentrate. Also, you will probably have about an hour and a half for lunch. You may need this time to prepare, research, or just relax and recharge. It is a good idea not to have to be looking for food. Bring a healthy snack (perhaps some fruit, nuts, or a bar), and pack a healthy lunch that you can eat quickly.
Decide What to Wear
Court is a formal and serious setting, and you want to let the court know that you respect the process and take it seriously. Most self-represented litigants will dress in business or business casual clothing. Do your best to keep your appearance neat and avoid dressing too casually. You may not wear a hat in a courtroom.