Going to court can be stressful.
Here are some tips to help you get ready for court. They'll also help you cope with the court process.
Do your research
Learn as much as you can about your issue and what to expect in court. This will help you feel more confident.
Here are two ideas for how to find out more about what will happen:
- Read about past decisions (precedents) from cases that were similar to yours. This can help you understand what might happen with your case. It might even help you decide what to say in court. For example:
- Watch a family law case in court so that you can:
- see what happens, and
- get an idea of the types of questions you and the other person will be asked.
Family court is open to the public. You don't need to ask if you can watch. But in some places, a sheriff might ask you why you want to watch. Tell them you have a case coming up and want to see what happens.
Phone the family court registry or ask at the registry counter to find out when a family court trial is happening.
Try to watch a trial that's similar to your own so you can see how the process works. For example, if you have a witness in your case, watch a trial where there are witnesses. This will help you get a better idea about how to put your witnesses on the stand, how to ask questions, and how to object.
Take care of yourself
If you don't feel good, you'll find it hard to concentrate in court.
Here are some ways to keep your body and mind healthy:
- Get enough rest. This will help you to stay calm in court and to think clearly.
- Exercise as much as you can. A walk in the fresh air is a good way to release tension and stress.
- Find time to relax and do some of the things you enjoy. This will give you a break from thinking about going to court.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy breakfast on the morning of your hearing or trial will help you keep your energy levels up and your mind focused.
Look for support and accept help
Here are some ways to find help before and during your trial:
- Before the trial: Try to surround yourself with positive people who'll comfort you, keep your spirits up, and help you feel normal while you prepare for your court date.
- If you're representing yourself in court, talk to other people who've gone to court without a lawyer. They'll understand how you're feeling, even if their case was quite different from yours. They might be able to offer both practical tips and emotional support.
- If you don't know anyone who's been to court without a lawyer, contact the National Self-represented Litigants Project. They have a list of people who've gone to court without a lawyer and who're happy to talk to other people about it.
- You might be able to get some free legal help. For example:
- If you think that you and the other person could come to an agreement before you go to court (called settling), a mediator could help you. The Mediate BC website has some helpful information about family mediation.
- During the trial: You can take a friend or family member with you for support if you're going to Provincial Court. See Can you take a support person to Provincial Court? for more information about this.
Be calm and patient
No matter how you're feeling, stay calm in the courtroom. Breathing deeply will help you stay calm.
Be prepared to spend long days at the courthouse. The hearing might take longer than you'd hoped.
Things can change at the last minute. Your trial might be switched to another time or even another date. Make sure:
- you don't have anything else important planned for the day, and
- you've arranged for your children to be looked after.
Bring something to read or do in case you have a long wait.
Expect to see many different judges
You might see a different judge every time you go to court. You might feel you're starting all over again and repeating yourself.
Don't lose patience. Stay calm and be ready to tell each new judge all about you and your issue.
Think about settling
Settling means coming to an agreement instead of going to trial. This is what happens with most family law cases. It can happen at any time in the process, even right before your trial begins. But remember that if you wait until the last minute, you and everyone involved will already have spent a lot of time and effort on getting ready to go to court.
Think about settling early in the process. If you settle, you won't get everything you wanted. But it might be worth it because you won't have to go to court.
Going to court is tiring and stressful and you don't know what a judge will decide. Think about your options and whether the other person is likely to agree to settling before you go to court.
- Making an agreement after you separate for more information on agreements, and
- Making mediation happen in a family law case in Supreme Court for more information on settling before you go to court.
This material was adapted, with permission, from the National Self-represented Litigant Project publication Coping with the courtroom: Essential tips and information for self-represented litigants (PDF).
Splitting up is hard and it's never fun. Go easy on yourself.