What not to wear to divorce court

Posted on Aug 20, 2018 by Katie Carter

I feel like there’s a whole list of things I shouldn’t have to say about what to wear when you go to court, but, then again, people wear things sometimes that make me shake my head. Whenever I’m in juvenile court, it seems like there’s always someone who thought it was appropriate to roll out of bed and attend court in their pajamas. Or, alternatively, (and, honestly, I’m not sure which is worse) there’s another contingent who prefer to wear the clothes they wore out to the club last night, never mind that it was a Tuesday.

It seems like there are a lot of questions out there about what to wear to court and how to present yourself best. It’s entirely possible that if you’re reading this article, you’re not my intended audience, but I’m hoping that, regardless, I can provide you with some helpful pointers that will allow you to make a strong first (or second or third) impression on the judge when you walk into the courtroom. (I say that you may not be my intended audience because I find it hard to believe that the pajama people are googling what not to wear to court; I imagine they probably don’t care very much.)

So, you’re probably not a pajama person – and thank goodness for that. But what should a normal, every day person wear to court in her divorce or custody case? I’m so glad you asked, and I am so happy to help.

A couple things to keep in mind:

1. Like it or not, Virginia is a fairly conservative state.

…And judges are often old, white men. Even if they’re not white, they’re almost certainly old. And old people don’t always understand younger people. Let’s not exaggerate the generational divide. Wear something that your grandmother would understand and appreciate. Don’t make her say, “What in tarnation?” or “Kids these days…”

Play your odds. Assume the old white guy will be standing in judgment. Even if it’s not an old white guy, dressing conservatively can hardly steer you wrong. Even the younger, non white judges wouldn’t say, “My goodness! She’s dressed like she’s going to church! Can’t give her custody…” Simply put: it can’t work against you.

Modesty, simplicity, respectfulness: these are the qualities that your clothing choices should radiate.

2. Don’t wear a suit.

Your goal shouldn’t be to look like an attorney. A suit is…probably not the best choice of clothes. Besides that you’ll likely be uncomfortable, a suit sends a different message. In a divorce or custody case, your attorney wants the judge to be able to clearly see you as a wife and mother, and your clothes should reflect that.

Now, I’m not saying that because you’re a mom you should show up with yogurt on your dress or Cheerios in your hair. You should be well groomed and pulled together. But we’re painting a picture in court, and part of that picture is you. You should look like a wife and/or mother – not as a lawyer.

3. You don’t have to wear a dress.

I usually tell my clients that church clothes are best. What do I mean by that? Dresses or nice, tailored slacks and a blouse or cardigan. It’s a pretty simple formula.

Iron your clothes, if necessary, too. Nothing looks sloppier than wrinkly clothes that look like you picked them up off the closet floor after fifteen years.

4. Your pictures matter, too! (And how you present yourself to anyone who might be called as a witness.)

Keep in mind that the judge won’t just see the you who sits in front of him on the day of your hearing. The judge may see pictures of you, and even hear from witnesses who’ve seen you out and about and interacting with the kids.

The pictures you show should also show your strengths as a wife and mother. Like it or not, we are all judged by the images we project – and if you’re cleavage baring in every single picture, some judgments may be formed about you. I know, I know – it’s unfair, it’s sexist, it’s a double standard to which men are not exposed. Still, you need to be aware of it so that you’re not caught off guard.

In your pictures (especially what you post on Facebook or in other places where opposing counsel could get ahold of it), you should project that same image.

5. Let’s talk about hair and jewelry.

So, yeah, pink hair, tattoos, and nose rings aren’t ideal. Like I said, judges are old, and frequently white. They often dress conservatively. And they aren’t quite as understanding about some of the fashion choices that younger people are making these days. Even though things like tattoos are becoming much, much more mainstream these days, I’d still be wary about showcasing my tattoo in a courtroom.

To the extent that you can, cover it. Brightly dyed hair, tattoos, and body piercings should be covered, to the extent possible. You don’t have to dye your hair for your court date (especially if your pictures show your pink hair anyway), but it wouldn’t be inappropriate to at least conservatively style it. Remove any jewelry, and use makeup to cover any tattoos, that might be outside the norm.

I know. I get it. I don’t like being judged on my appearance any more than you do. But, from experience, I can tell you that it is regularly something that I consider, especially when going to court. I always wear pantyhose, for example, and, though I prefer suiting separates as opposed to matchy-matchy pieces, I generally stick to black, navy, and gray, especially in a big hearing. (In an uncontested divorce hearing, on the other hand, I wouldn’t worry so much.) That’s just to emphasize that I’m playing the same game as you. Are there different standards for men? Probably, sure. But who cares? It’s your case, and the most important thing is to put your best foot forward, even if that means you do things a little bit differently than you might ordinarily.

You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions. After reading this, you’ll be in a better position to present yourself in the most positive light possible when your case goes to court, and that’s great! For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.