How to Dress in Court for a Child Custody Case

Judge and gavel in courtroom
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Parents who would like to win child custody should ensure they have dressed appropriately for all court appearances. The appropriate dress may vary based on time of year or location, but wherever you live (and even if the weather is hot), your goal should be to appear mature and responsible. Even though your character and history with your children should play a more important role than your appearance, appearance does count.

Court-Appropriate Appearance

To "dress for success" means choosing outfits, haircuts, makeup, and accessories wisely. When dressing for a child custody case, success is winning custody; to do that, you will need to look as mature, serious-minded, and financially secure as possible.

If you don't own appropriate clothing, it's worth it to borrow some or even find an appropriate outfit at a thrift shop. When putting your outfit together:

  • Consider not only your clothes but also your hair, makeup, and behavior. If your hair is an unusual color, consider wearing a wig or coloring it more conservatively for the occasion. If you wear piercings other than earrings, consider removing jewelry. If you have tattoos, consider wearing clothing that covers them. If you like to chew gum, don't. All of these small changes can radically change the impression you make.
  • Put yourself in the judge's shoes, and imagine their reaction to you. You can do this by watching real child custody cases in your local area. How did people dress? What reaction did the judge seem to have to, for example, a parent showing up in a muscle shirt and flip-flops?
  • Think of yourself as an actor going on stage. You're creating a costume for a character that is serious, mature, and sincere. What would such a character wear?

Appropriate Dress for Men 

Dads who would like to win child custody should ensure they are appropriately dressed for a child custody hearing. Examples of appropriate dress for men are:

  • Collared shirt
  • Dark suit
  • Dress shoes
  • Tie

Appropriate Dress for Women

Moms who would like to win child custody should ensure that they make the best appearance during all child custody hearings. Some examples of appropriate dress for women are:

  • Dark pants or a skirt suit
  • Dark, non-patterned dress
  • Dress shoes/pumps
  • Pants with a long-sleeve shirt

Clothing Items to Avoid

Parents who would like to win child custody should avoid:

  • Short skirts (above the knee)
  • Sleeveless shirts
  • Sneakers
  • Open-toe shoes (including flip-flops)
  • Extremely tight or fitted clothing

Seasonal Exceptions

If a parent has a child custody proceeding during the summer, it may not make sense to wear an entire two or three--piece suit. A parent can modify their dress to suit the season. For example, you might forego a suit jacket in extreme heat. Even in the heat, though, avoid shorts, flip-flops, and sleeveless tops.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.