This is general information about what you should expect when you go to a hearing. Each court is different and each judge is different. If you want advice about your particular case, you should contact a lawyer.
How do I prepare for the hearing?
I’ve never been to court. What should I expect?
Each court is a little different. Some hearings are more formal, like the ones you see on TV. Other hearings are not as formal. Generally Magistrate Court and Family Court are less formal. Circuit Court is more formal.
In Magistrate Court and Circuit Court, the public are generally allowed to be present during the hearing. In Family Court, the public is not allowed to be in the hearing. In addition to the judge, there may be court staff in all of the hearings, helping to keep track of information or record what happens at the hearing. In Family Court, the hearings are recorded by video.
What should I wear?
You want to make a good impression. If you dress nicely, this tells the judge that you respect the court and care about your case. But you don’t have to buy new clothes to go to court. Just wear what you would put on for a job interview or when you go to church. You should not generally wear hats, clothing with tears, or revealing clothing.
Also, do not chew gum. Be sure to turn your cell phone off or put it on silent.
When should I get to the hearing?
You should arrive early. Be at the courthouse at least 15 minutes before your hearing is set to start. You should check in with court staff to make sure that you are outside the right courtroom. Some cases may take longer than expected, so be prepared to wait.
What will happen at the hearing?
It depends on the kind of court, the judge and the kind of case. Generally, you should be prepared to tell the judge in a few brief sentences what your case is about, how you plan to prove the facts of your case, and what you want the judge to do.
Then you present your case to the judge. You should only tell the judge the facts that are relevant to why you are in court. Usually, it helps to tell the facts in chronological order. You should offer to show the judge any documents or evidence you have. If you have a witness you should let the judge know and then you should be prepared to ask your witness questions. The other party will be given the chance to ask questions of your witness too. Remember-A witness must be someone who saw or heard what happened themselves. As you finish presenting your case, you should be sure to tell the judge exactly what you are asking the judge to do in your case.
The other party will also get a chance to present his or her case. You should not interrupt or argue with the other party when it’s their turn to talk. If you want to make an official objection to what the other party is saying, you should tell the judge you object or disagree and give the reasons you are objecting. If the other party has a witness testify, you can ask questions of that witness. Remember though, there may be a risk in asking questions of a witness when you don’t know how the witness will respond.
In Circuit Court the rules for presenting evidence and asking questions of witnesses are stricter. Most judges will expect you to follow those rules. You should try to at least get advice from a lawyer about those rules if you are going to Circuit Court without a lawyer representing you.
How should I act?
Be respectful to everyone in court. Try to stay calm and speak clearly. Always speak to the judge, not the other party. Do not argue with or interrupt the judge, the other party, or a lawyer. Each side will be given an opportunity to be heard.
But, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to speak up. Do not depend on the judge to remember everything you have asked for. If something has been overlooked, tell the judge. Also, if you do not understand something, speak up. Say that you do not understand and someone will try to explain it to you.
Finally, you should behave professionally. Do not slam pens, papers, or doors. Do not laugh, sigh loudly, or make faces. Do not yell or use curse words. The judge will be observing and behavior impacts whether the judge believes what you are saying.
What should I bring with me to the hearing?
Bring at least three copies of any evidence you plan to use.
You should also bring copies of every paper you have filed with the Court to your hearing. You may also want to bring the papers that the other party filed. You should review all of these papers again before your hearing. The information in them is very important.
Also, it might help you to write down some of the facts and information that you want to be sure to mention to the judge. If you have witnesses, you should write out the questions you plan to ask and go over them with your witnesses before the hearing.
When will the judge decide my case?
Sometimes the judge may make a decision at the hearing. Often the judge will take more time to consider the evidence and the law before deciding. You should get written paperwork letting you know what the judge decided. This is called an order. An order is a document describing how the judge ruled in the case and what further actions, if any, must be taken. Orders must always be signed by the judge.
What if I don’t agree with the decision?
Once you have received the final order from the judge it will generally be subject to an "appeal." An appeal is a legal action where one of the parties requests that a higher court review the decision. Whether or not to appeal a decision is a complex issue. Sometimes there are very fast deadlines for appealing. Also, in many cases, the higher court can only review certain issues that were dealt with in the order. You can file an appeal on your own, but you should at least try to get advice from a lawyer about the rules that apply in an appeal.