Failing to show up for a divorce court appearance, like failing to show up for any legal proceeding, may have serious consequences. If you truly have a personal emergency, the court may be forgiving of a first offense. On the other hand, if you fail to appear in court when you are scheduled to do so on more than one occasion, especially if you don’t notify the court in advance, you are likely to be treated sternly. If you are teamed up with a well-regarded attorney, she or he will probably be able to postpone your date and protect you if your absence truly could not be avoided, but don’t push your luck!
Actions and In actions Have Consequences
Judges do not like to be disrespected. Also, don’t forget that the failure to appear for a scheduled court appointment is technically a crime. It indicates to the judge, without evidence to the contrary, that you are treating the court and the judicial system frivolously, a mistake unlikely to be ignored.
Apart from personal penalties, such as being held in contempt of court, having a bench warrant issued for your arrest, and even being sent to jail, the judge may be inclined to rule against you in various aspects of your divorce case (e.g. child custody or child support arrangements) if she or he believes you to be unreliable. Disobeying the court’s request (command) that you appear paints you as irresponsible and uncaring which can only hurt you in your divorce proceedings.
Contempt of court may result in fines and even jail time, but it is more likely to result in your getting the wrong end of the stick when it comes to court decisions on your child support or visitation arrangements. Your spouse and his/her attorney may use your failure to appear to persuade the judge that such behavior is further evidence of your noncompliance with the rules.
The Judge Has Options
In most cases, the judge will not “throw the book” at you for one indiscretion, particularly if you and your lawyer are able to provide a reasonable explanation for your absence. Also, depending on which state you are in, one or both spouses may be allowed to skip the hearing that will finalize the divorce.
If your divorce is contested, however, and your appearance is required, if you don’t show up the judge may pursue one of the following:
- Rule in favor of your spouse who was present
- Reschedule the hearing
- Dismiss the case or motion
The outcome of your failure to appear will almost always be based on whether you have missed a previous appearance and/or whether you have justification for missing this one.
Why You May Be Tempted To Miss a Court Appearance
Some people are frightened to make a court appearance and try to avoid the discomfort of the experience by simply staying home. Perhaps you are one of these people. It pays to remember, however, that the following rationales for skipping a court appearance don’t hold water and will only hurt you, and perhaps your children, in the long run:
- I’m afraid of speaking in public
- My spouse makes a better appearance that I do
- My spouse is more educated and well-spoken than I am
- I have done things I’m ashamed of and don’t want spoken about publicly (e.g. committed adultery, abused alcohol or drugs, struck my wife or child, spent time in jail)
- I am overly emotional and may say things I will regret in the courtroom
If you have the right attorney representing you, your lawyer will be able to reassure you and assist you in maintaining your composure in the courtroom. He or she will also be able to remind you that everyone has behaved in ways they are not proud of, and that owning up to past wrongs is likely to make you seem more, not less, responsible and mature.
How Having a Knowledgeable, Well-Spoken Divorce Attorney Will Help Immensely
In almost everything you do, having a true professional to guide is invaluable. This situation is no exception. An experienced divorce attorney will:
- Know how to explain your absence or your delayed appearance at court
- Make certain that you dress appropriately and know how to respond respectfully
- Be capable of defending your position when negotiating issues in your divorce
- Make sure all paperwork is filed promptly and correctly, giving your team a leg up
- Advise you about when your appearance in court is mandatory and when it is not
- Explain the legal consequences of your actions, attitude and behavior and what effect they may have on the outcome of your case
Make sure that you choose a divorce attorney with whom you have rapport so that you can work well together as a team
Reasons Not To Miss a Court Appearance in a Divorce Case
To sum up, there are several compelling reasons to do everything in your power to show up for all divorce court appearances at which your presence is required, including:
- The judge may decide to proceed without you, listening only to your spouse’s version of the pertinent facts while you are not being present to give a rebuttal
- You may be held in contempt of court, be charged a significant fine, or even have a bench warrant issued for your arrest
- You may lose credibility in the eyes of the court, resulting in decisions against you relative to child custody and/or support, or other significant matters
If you feel strongly that you will be at a disadvantage in a courtroom scene, instead of skipping an appearance, discuss the matter thoroughly with your divorce attorney. She or he may be able to help you arrange alternative methods of divorce with your spouse, such as mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce. One of these may make you much more comfortable because all take place in a less public forum and are less confrontational.