It’s OK to Cry in Divorce Court. Here’s why.

Crying in divorce court can be embarrassing, painful and humiliating. Who would guess that it’s frequently the jumping off place for divorce recovery? The number one reason it’s ok to cry in court: to let the true healing process begin.

Maria’s first round of Divorce Court was the next morning at 9AM. She and I had practiced the anticipated questions ad nauseam. 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 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? Blouse and slacks?  Not too businesslike. Not too casual. Dark blouse, tailored. No cleavage. Long string of pearls. Pumps, low heel. Understated earrings. Light make-up. We spent more time on the outfit than the questions.

“Let’s review those questions one more time”, I suggested. “Kat, I’m good. My case us airtight”, she said. He had cheated on her for 25 years, though that wouldn’t matter to the court. It did matter to her, however – and under her calm exterior, she was 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”.

“I get half of everything, and that’s all I care about. They can have each other”, she said.

Healing of that magnitude doesn’t happen quite so fast. In fact, it’s perfectly 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 reminiscent of a geyser at Yellowstone, gently gurgling and bubbling, but controlled. Then, WHAM! the magic seismic ingredients come together and KAZAAM! The whole thing explodes into a mountain of hot steam.

That’s what happened for Maria the next morning. She tripped into the intersection of intellect and emotion in divorce court. Reality hit her, hard. Preparation for the cross examination had been critical, of course. Stay calm. Be strong. Focus. Don’t 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 supported her so well all those years, when she hadn’t had to work?

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 court room thinking, “Hot dog! Today I’m going to break down and cry in front of everyone.” Of course not. We all want to stay strong, convincing, and composed – especially when we live in a world of snappy answers in the TV courtroom. Reality check: In the real world, 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.

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 it didn’t hurt anything, and may, in fact, have helped. Certainly, it helped you personally.

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 note of caution: drama has no part in this. If those tears don’t come naturally from deep inside, involuntarily, you’re creating drama – and the whole courtroom will sense it. Honest, authentic tears, however, are not an act. The judge will know the difference. More importantly, so will you.

You’ll have another date in court. You’ll be ready next time, with less prep time on outfits and more time on questions. Even so, don’t be surprised if tears well up again. If they do, pause and think to yourself, “Yep. Here comes honesty again.” You might turn to the judge and ask, “May I have a moment?”.  You can collect yourself, breathe, and proceed.

Allow yourself the privilege of emotional honesty. Tears in court happen all the time. You’re not being judged. You’re being human. Let it be the beginning of true healing.