What Happens in Court

Planning for your time in court

You will probably have to wait in the courthouse before your case comes up, so you should plan to spend most of the day there. Some courthouses have child care services. Try to find out before you go to court, If they do not, try to leave your children with someone, or arrange for someone to take them to school. Sifting around the courthouse for several hours will be hard for them and having them at the hearing can be stressful for all of you.

Your physical appearance can make a difference in how a judge perceives you. You should try to dress as if you were going to work in an office.

What To Expect In Court

YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE SAFE IN THE COURTHOUSE AND THE COURTROOM. Your abuser may try to threaten or scare you in the courthouse. He may also try to stop the case by telling you he is sorry about the abuse and promising not to hurt you anymore. Even it you think that you may get back together, having an Order of Protection may prevent more violence in the future. If he promises to stop the abuse, it is always better to have the judge hear the promise; this could be done by agreeing to an Order of Protection.

You do not have to speak with or sit near your abuser. If he tries to intimidate you or you are pressured in any way, go immediately to a clerk or anyone else who works there and ask for help.

If the abuser does not come to the hearing, your case will be adjourned and you will be given a new court date. You can ask the judge to issue a warrant for his arrest. If you have a Temporary Order of Protection, you may also need to ask for it to be extended until the next court date.

Talking To The Judge

Before you testify, you will be asked to swear that you will tell the truth. Everyone else who testifies, including your abuser, will also be sworn.

Everyone in the courtroom is expected to treat the judge with special respect, so always call the judge "Your Honor" and don't interrupt when the judge is talking. Speak only when the judge asks you to speak. If the judge interrupts you to ask you a question, stop speaking right away. If you don't understand a question, politely say so. If you can answer a question with "Yes, Your Honor" or "No, Your Honor" that's all you need to say. If you have to explain something, try to give just the facts and to be brief. Speak slowly, look directly at the judge and tell what happened, but keep it simple. If you practice your testimony ahead of time, it will be easier to talk in court even if you are nervous.

A judge often has to deal with many cases in a day and so he or she may seem to be in a hurry. Sometimes, it can seem as if a judge is angry or irritated. Try not to let this bother you, remain calm and follow the suggestions above.

After you have told your story, your abuser (or his lawyer, if he has one) has the right to give his side of what happened. This may include asking you questions to try to discredit what you have just told the judge. This is called cross-examination. This may be upsetting to you, but it is important to stay calm and not get into an argument with your abuser. Do not say anything until the judge asks you to speak again or tells you to answer the questions. If your abuser lies, when it is your turn to talk, simply tell the court that what your abuser said was not truthful.

You should make sure that the judge knows about any threats your abuser has made to stop you from going to court. These may include threats to take or harm your children, to withhold money for support, or threats against your friends or family. You should also report harassment such as repeatedly phoning the place you work or coming to your workplace.