A Father's Role in Court
Even if you weren't your child's caretaker, or don't see your child often, there are many things you and your relatives can do in court to help keep your child safe and ensure he or she is reunited with family quickly. As the father, you have an important role to play in the court process. By coming to court and participating in the hearings, you can help your child and protect your rights.
Review this information before you attend a court hearing or meeting and use it to help you prepare.This information provides general information, not legal advice. If you have case-specific or legal questions, ask your lawyer or caseworker.
When you will need this information
Use it to remind you of your role in court and how to advocate for (stand up for) yourself. Review it before court hearings.
How to Act in Court
The courtroom is formal. When coming before the judge, you must be respectful by acting and
dressing in a certain way. If you don't, the judge and others may take you less seriously, which may affect your rights and relationship to your child. Follow these tips on how to behave in court. They will help you achieve your goals. If you bring family or friends to court, they should follow these tips also:
- Focus on your child. Remember, this is about the health and safety of your child. Help the caseworker and court find ways to make sure your child gets the best care and assistance.
- Be on time or early for court hearings. The courtroom may change at the last minute.
- Attend all court hearings.
- Dress well. Wear neat, clean clothes. Dress for success: wear a suit and tie if you have them.
- Don't eat or drink.
- Turn off electronic devices - your cell phone, pager, or videogames.
- Don't speak when someone else is speaking.
- Show respect. Address the judge, attorneys, and other people in the courtroom respectfully. Refer to the judge as "Your Honor," "Sir," or "Ma'am."
- Control your emotions. Being in court and hearing things about you can make you angry, particularly, if something is untrue. If you disagree with something, say so, but do not raise your voice or yell. Doing so will make you look bad in front of the judge and caseworker who may then think you can't control your anger or emotions.
- Bring all documents and information that your attorney has asked you to bring. If you still do not have a lawyer, bring all information you need to advocate for yourself and prove your points.
- Pay attention in court and let the judge and lawyers know if you don't understand something and ask if you need something repeated.
- Set a positive example. If your children are in court, keep them in mind.
What to Do Before, During, and After Court
Preparing for Trial
Find out the type of trial:
- Fact Finding Hearing: determines whether your child was abused or neglected.
- Issue-specific trial: decides an issue in your case, such as a service someone says you need, or your right to visitation with your child.
- Termination of parental rights: determines whether you should keep your parental rights to your child.
If you don't have a lawyer, ask for one (even if you have asked before).
- If you face losing your rights as a parent, most courts will give you a lawyer for free if you can't afford one.
- If it is a trial where you don't have a right to a lawyer, ask if the court has a program that helps people prepare for hearings and trials when they don't have a lawyer.
Identify and dispute claims.
- Find out what (if any) claims are being made against you.
- Dispute claims by submitting documents to the court or bringing witnesses to testify for you (if the issue is whether you can visit your child, bring witnesses who have observed you with your child and can describe positive interactions).
Know when you can appeal the court's decision.
If the court makes a decision you do not agree with, you may be able to ask a higher court to review the decision. Discuss this option with your lawyer. If you don't have a lawyer, see if you can get one for free or at a low cost to help with appeal. If you can't, ask if the court has a program that can help individuals without lawyers prepare appeals.
Adapted for Washington State use from the American Humane Association's, Fatherhood Toolkit
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