Courtroom Etiquette

Navigating the court system can be very complex. At Thistoo, we aim to simplify the uncontested divorce process by not only helping you plan, organize, agree to, and resolve your divorce, but also by preparing you for your courthouse visits. 

The court house

In Ontario, family law disputes are heard by the Ontario Court of Justice, or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice.

1)    The Family Court branch listens to all family law matters including divorce, division of property, child and spousal support, custody and access, adoption, and child protection applications.

2)    The Ontario Court of Justice deals with family law matters besides divorce or division of property matters.

3)    The Superior Court of Justice may decide on divorce, division of property, child and spousal support, and custody and access.

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Regardless of the Courthouse that decides your matter, there are certain formalities and etiquette that each person must abide by. If you show respect to the court system by being on time, dressing appropriately, and addressing people by their correct title, the judge will likely hear your case with respect and consideration.

Arrive on time

It is very important to reach the courthouse on time. This means arriving at least 15 minutes prior your scheduled appearance. When you arrive, check the daily hearing list for your courtroom number and time slot. If the matter of your concern is not on the list, you may ask a member of the court staff to assist you in looking up where and when the matter is being heard. Arriving early to court also gives you the opportunity to speak to duty counsel prior to court commencing.

It is also important to arrive on time because, for security purposes, the courthouse may conduct a search similar to what you may experience at an airport. Some courthouses have metal detectors, and court security officers may ask to search any of your belongings. As such, it is a good idea to leave pocketknives, sharp metal objects, or anything else that can be considered a weapon at home.

Dispose of any distractions

Taking photographs at the courthouse is not permitted, unless the Judge explicitly gives you permission to do so. It is also appropriate to turn off your mobile phone, and to refrain from listening to music, or reading a book or newspaper while you wait for your matter to be heard. Be sure to get rid of any food or drink as well, as these items are not permitted in the courtroom.

Dress conservatively and respectfully

Think of dressing for the courthouse like dressing for a job interview. Lawyers will likely wear a suit or professional business attire. You do not have to dress formally, but dressing conservatively is always a good idea. Judges will treat you with professionalism and respect if you show respect in return by dressing suitably in front of the court. While it is not required that you wear professional business attire, you should refrain from wearing clothing with offensive words or exposing too much skin. Lastly, refrain from wearing a hat, sunglasses, earphones, and from chewing gum when you are at the courthouse. 

A man preparing for trial.

Address the court correctly

If you are self-representing, it is essential that you address the court correctly.  The first thing you should observe is whether a Judge or a Justice of the Peace is hearing your case.  To tell the difference between the two, just remember that Judges wear a red sash, and Justices of the Peace wear a green sash. You should address a Judge as “Your Honour” and a Justice of the Peace as “Your Worship.”

Whether a Judge or a Justice of the Peace is hearing your case, you must stand to show respect when they enter or leave the courtroom. If the Judge or Justice of the Peace is on the bench, take a gentle bow at the doorway when you enter and when you leave. You will be instructed to take your seat when the Judge or the Justice of the Peace has sat down. Once they call your name, you must immediately go to the front of the court and identify yourself.

If you are asked a question, make sure to answer with words instead of gestures. Everything in court is recorded and the stenographer (or recorder) cannot record your gestures. Be sure to answer questions to the best of your knowledge and as concisely as you can.  It's a good idea to practice by thinking of potential questions you'll receive and the answers you would give. 

Keep a courteous and professional attitude

Keeping a courteous and polite demeanour is always essential at the courthouse. This means speaking calmly and clearly when it is your turn to present your case. When a judge is present, do not speak to the other lawyer; rather you should directly address the judge. Do not make rude facial expressions or gestures, and if you happen to have any supporters or witnesses with you, tell them to do the same.

When the judge has made their decision, do not argue with them. Similarly, you do not want to interrupt others while it is their turn to speak. You will receive your turn to present your case, and express yourself to the court. Instead of interrupting, bring a pen and paper to jot points you wish to make so that you remember them when it is your turn to speak.

Finally, if you are confused at any point, you are permitted to ask the judge for clarification. They will try to provide you with reasonable assistance whenever possible. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

We are here to help!

At Thistoo, we understand that navigating the court system can be intimidating, and sometimes outright daunting. This is especially the case if you are self-representing. It is our mission to simplify the uncontested divorce process for you by keeping you informed and organized, so that you can focus on what is important and move on with your life. Try out our separation agreement generator yourself to see how easy it can be to agree on the terms of your separation.