After all these months, your court date finally rears its demanding head. What if you cry? You’re solidly composed – or you thought you were! Emotional reactions like tears are hard to predict. Nevertheless, crying in divorce court can be embarrassing, painful, or humiliating. At the same time, it might just be the very place you needed to be emotionally for the official beginning of your recovery. Let the the true healing process begin.
Let’s look at my client, Maria (name changed for confidentiality). An attorney herself, she’s a fountain of strength, composure, and determination – not to mention tenacity. Maria’s first round of divorce court was the next morning at 9 a.m. We’d practiced the anticipated questions ad nauseam. After all, she herself had represented clients in court. One more time: Where are the holes he could find to penetrate in his cross-examination? She shrugged it off. “I’ve been over these questions with you (my divorce recovery coach) and my own attorneys. I got this,” she said. And so she did – or so it seemed. No matter what her husband’s attorney threw at her, it would slide off. She was ready, and tired of practice.
Our conversation switched to what should she wear? We spent more time on the outfit than the questions.
When we’d established the court outfit du jour, I suggested we review her testimony one more time, “Kat, I’m good. My case is airtight,” she said. He had cheated on her for 25 years, though she knew that wouldn’t matter to the court. It did matter to her, however – and under her calm exterior, she was still seething. She had found them wrapped in embrace, sound asleep, in her bed. She said she was past it. She talked of moving on. She just wanted “out.”
“They can have each other,” she said.
Healing of that magnitude doesn’t happen fast. In fact, its normal and healthy for anger, resentment, betrayal, sadness, jealousy, hurt – all those intense divorce emotions – to lurk for months (even years) steaming under a composed façade.
It’s a pressure cooker waiting to burst.
That’s exactly what happened to Maria the next morning. She tripped into the intersection of intellect and emotion in divorce court.
Practice had taught her: She would stay calm, strong, focused. She knew not to take anything personally. The opposing attorney is only doing her job. But none of that prepared her for the emotional jolt that lay ahead.
The bailiff called her case. She walked courageously to the witness stand. I could see her strength beaming from her eyes. Bring it on!
Her husband’s attorney began showing her family pictures. He began to question her integrity. Why had she hidden money from her husband, the man who had contributed to her success all those years, when she’d been working her way up to partner?
As her confusion rose, her composure went south. In spite of every effort to breathe deeply and maintain her focus, she was weeping. The court watched while she muttered, “Don’t you know what he did to me and my children?” She dissolved into jerking sobs. The opposing attorney had no more questions.
No one enters the courtroom thinking, “Hot dog! Today I’m going to break down and sob in court.” Of course not. We all want to stay strong, convincing, and composed – especially when we live in a world of snappy answers on “Judge Judy.”
In the real world, however, it’s not easy to keep your cool in a highly contested divorce. You’re responding to questions from professionals whose job it is to throw you off balance, and win for their client. That’s why rehearsal for you is so critical – even for an attorney who is, herself, going through a divorce.
If an emotional collapse happens to you in court, don’t let the gremlins of failure scream at you. You may have committed the most honorable act of all: pure honesty! In fact, you haven’t failed. You’ve allowed the world see the effect this divorce has had on you. Though emotions aren’t a measurable ingredient in the judge’s decision, you can feel good knowing that you did the honest act: you became vulnerable during the height of a difficult, hurtful, lonely process.
The number one reason it’s OK to cry in court: to let the true healing process begin. You’ve finally let your authentic self, your real emotions, wiggle through the legal mortar and bloom on the outside. Now, that knot in your stomach is a little smaller. The pounding in your heart is not quite as intense. There’s a sense of honesty that no trumped-up stoic composure can rival. An emotional let-down in court is OK.
Court is rough sledding. When you leave the courthouse, reflect on what happened: You just received a gift from your heart – and your healing leapt miles ahead because of your honesty. You were true to yourself, and what you’re actually experiencing. Never be ashamed of it.
One serious note of caution: drama has no part in this. Unless those tears come naturally from deep inside, involuntarily, you’re creating drama. Tears that are honest and authentic are not an act. When in court, the judge will be able to tell the difference. More importantly, so will you.
While you’ll be ready for your next court date, don’t be surprised if tears well up again. If they do, pause and think to yourself, “Yep. Here comes honesty again.” Don’t be afraid to ask the judge if you may have a moment. He or she will surely grant it. Collect yourself, breathe, and proceed.
Don’t be afraid of allowing yourself the privilege of emotional honesty. In court, tears happen all the time. Remember: you’re only human and nobody is judging you.
Let crying be the beginning of true healing as you go through your divorce.