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What are some tips for going to court?

Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, with funding from American College of Bankruptcy Foundation
Reviewed December 2019

Do not miss your court date

Court is not an appointment you can miss or reschedule. If you miss your court date or you are late, you may lose your case. The judge can dismiss your case or enter a judgment against you. If you have a very good reason why you cannot go to court, request that the case be “continued”.

  • Call the Plaintiff (or Plaintiff's attorney) before the hearing and ask to continue the case
  • If they agree, get it in writting.  Write out a "Motion to Continue". Write the day you are asking the court to reschedule the hearing for in your motion. Say the "Plaintiff agrees to the change" in the motion.  Fax, email or bring it to the Plaintiff's attorney to sign.
  • Send or bring it to the court clerk's office. Keep a copy.
  • Your hearing date will not be changed until the court approved your motion. Call the clerk to find out if your motion is approved. Find the number for the courthouse

Allow plenty of time before and after your hearing

Court may take all day. Allow plenty of time to travel. Being late can make you anxious. If you are late, the court clerk may think you are not coming and the judge may enter a judgment against you. If you know you are going to be late, call the clerk's office.  Find the number for the courthouse

Be Prepared

Put together a file with copies of all of your court papers and papers from the plaintiff. Bring any evidence that supports your defenses and counterclaims. Bring a written list of all the important dates and events that happened in your case. Bring change in case you need to use the copy machine. Make notes of the questions you want to ask. Practice your presentation with friends and family.

Bring Your Evidence

If you are supposed to bring evidence and witnesses to the courtroom, bring everything. It is not good enough to tell the judge that you have the proof if you do not have it with you. If you have documents or pictures, bring the originals and two copies. Ask your witnesses to arrive early and dress nicely. Some documents can not be used as evidence unless the right person is in the courtroom to explain the document and answer questions about it. You can learn more about preparing for your case by reading Representing Yourself in a Civil Case: Things to Consider When Going to Court.

Dress Nicely

T-shirts with curses, belly shirts, sunglasses, and torn clothing are not appropriate. You do not have to buy new clothing for court, but remember it is a formal place.

Find Childcare

Court may take all day. Arrange for someone to take care of your children.

Act Properly in the Courtroom

Noisy, distracting and disrespectful behavior is not allowed in the courtroom. Turn off your cell phone or pager when you are in the courtroom. Do not chew gum, eat, sleep, wear a hat, listen to music, talk on a cell phone, take pictures, or carry a weapon in the courtroom. Enter and leave the courtroom quietly, so you do not disturb others.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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