Navigating the Family Court
Navigating the Family Court
The Family Court of Western Australia is not the sort of place anyone wants to end up in. However, in some matters, it is unfortunately unavoidable. Should you ever find yourself parking under the Perth Concert Hall, and the only show you’re going to see is your life played out publically in front of you (and your ex-partner and respective Solicitors with front row seats), here are a few hints that may make a pretty tough situation a little easier:
Security Check: When you enter the Court, you will be required to walk through a metal detector, and your belongings will be run through a scanner machine, a la the Airport. I’ve seen the security guards confiscate all sorts of sharp metal objects, so leave these at home. I’m sure that whoever penned the The Little Book of Calm would tell you to also take the opportunity to close your eyes, and pretend that you are about to board a plane to some exotic location. No judgment - whatever works for you.
Dress Code: It’s no black tie event, but it’s really not in your best interests to look like you’ve rolled out of bed and decided to grace the Court with your presence. The inside of a courtroom is a pretty serious place, particularly the Family Court, which deals with people’s personal lives on a daily basis. The clothes you wear should convey that you consider your Court attendance as an important matter, and that you have respect for the Court; not a Jack Daniels slogan.
Courtroom Conduct: When you find yourself sitting in the courtroom, be mindful of your reactions. Be careful not make faces, sigh, snigger, roll your eyes, shake your head or gesticulate wildly in response to a witness’s testimony with which you disagree. I have seen people crack it and storm out of the courtroom before. Really not a good idea, and it does not go unnoticed. The judicial officer has a birds-eye view of the courtroom, and they don’t miss a trick. Also, keep in mind that there are microphones within the courtroom that record everything.
A wise man once said to me, “act like you’re in someone else’s lounge room”. Sage advice.
Only Speak the Truth: If it’s your turn to be cross-examined, tell the truth - not only because you will have sworn an oath to tell the truth but also because you do not want to prejudice your case. The most completely devastating thing that can happen is for you to lie regarding some aspect of your case.
It takes an awful lot of energy to maintain a lie, and many a person have come unstuck at the hands of Barristers, who are highly skilled in catching people out. You’ll most likely end up in knots like George Bush when he was asked whether he wished he could take back any of his answers in the first Presidential Debate: "I think if you know what you believe, it makes it a lot easier to answer questions. I can't answer your question".
Answers, not Questions: Use every fibre of your being to not ask the Barrister a question, tempting as it may be - it may appear that you are trying to avoid answering the Barrister’s question, or that your are being obstructive. Take a moment and remind yourself that despite the context, your highly personal context that is, they are just doing their job. And remember, your legal team are there to protect you if you are being mistreated.
There is only one exception: you must ask the Barrister to repeat or rephrase the question if you did not hear or understand the question. Never answer a question you did not hear or understand - it could end up being disastrous for you.
Get Familiar: Don’t look to your legal team when answering questions. Similarly, don’t read your Affidavit in an attempt to answer the question. It’s important that you are familiar with the contents of your Affidavit prior to your Court attendance – it will address the issues of your case, and most likely contain most of your answers.
The Last Say: Don’t panic if you think you’ve stitched yourself up during cross-examination. Keep in mind that your Barrister will have a chance to ask you questions again after the other party’s Barrister cross-examines you. If there is anything that you feel has not been adequately explained in cross-examination, your Barrister will give you the chance to explain it.
Going to Court is not a process that anyone chooses to go through. Rely on your legal team for guidance and don’t ever be afraid to ask your Solicitor questions about the workings of the Family Court. Just remember, there is no stupid question – stupid people don’t ask questions. Just don’t ask them when you’re in the witness box!