Dear Penny: What’s the Proper Courtroom Etiquette if I Evict My Daughter?

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Dear Penny,

I am planning to evict/eject my adult daughter if nothing changes. I'm wondering about the etiquette for such a court hearing.

If it's at a physical court, would it be wrong for us to walk in together? If it's virtual, should we be in the same room? When speaking, should I refer to my daughter as “the defendant”, “Jane Smith”, “Jane”, or “Miss Smith”? Should I look at her during the hearing? If she starts crying, should I turn away?

Once the court orders my daughter to leave, do I have a window in which to enforce that? If she seems to be getting her act together, I might not kick her out right away, but then might I have to start the process over again if she doesn't leave? What if she later comes to visit and then won't leave, claiming to live here? I can't seem to find clear answers to these questions.


Dear V.,

I doubt it matters much to a judge whether you walk into court with your daughter together or separately. If the hearing is held remotely, you can check with your local court about the rules for virtual proceedings. Bear in mind, though, that defendants often don’t show up for eviction hearings, so all of this may be a moot point.

As for how to behave in court: You’re a parent first and a plaintiff second. You can refer to your daughter by her first name or simply “my daughter” if that’s what you’re most comfortable doing. I can’t really say what the proper reaction is if she starts to cry. What I will say, though, is that I don’t think you’re expected to be stone-faced at such an emotional time.

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The rules for evictions vary widely by city and state. So for questions about things like whether there’s an enforcement window and what happens if your daughter visits or refuses to leave, you’ll need to consult with a local attorney.

However, I think you’re focusing too much on what happens on the actual day of the proceeding. What happens afterward is a lot more important. On that note, I’d suggest holding off on evicting your daughter until you feel confident that she’s not going to get her act together anytime soon. If you’d get an eviction judgment against her, it will become part of the public record. She could have difficulty renting a place of her own for a long time afterward as a result.

That’s not your fault, of course, especially if you’ve given her multiple chances. But this is clearly a decision that’s fraught with emotion for you, so it’s important to think about the lasting consequences. You also need to consider what the long-term fallout would be on your relationship with your daughter if you evict her.

I’m not sure what you’ve done up to this point. But often, it’s easier to get someone out of your house when you make things a bit uncomfortable. You could give her a notice to vacate that tells her she has 30 or 60 days to move out. There are plenty of templates you can find online.

If she balks at the prospect of moving out, you can use the opportunity to set some ground rules. Perhaps you’d be willing to extend the timeline to, say, six months — but only if your daughter finds a job if she’s not working, contributes a set amount of rent and performs certain chores. Should you go this route, have her sign a written agreement specifying that violating any of these rules is ground for eviction.

But if that doesn’t work, or if you’ve already taken similar steps, you might want to consider mediation before eviction court. A mediator is a third party who can help you reach an agreement outside of court. Reaching an agreement through mediation tends to be better for preserving relationships than suing a family member. Plus, it’s often a cheaper alternative to court.

However, you may find that evicting your daughter really is your only option. Just don’t evict your daughter unless you’re willing to actually let her deal with the consequences of having an eviction on her record.

That means no evicting her and then risking your credit by co-signing a lease for her. You also don’t want to evict her if you think you’d give in should she come back crying to you that she has nowhere to go. Kicking your daughter out of your home will only be more complicated if she has an eviction on her record.

Eviction ultimately may prove necessary here. If that’s the case, remember that this is your daughter’s choice, not yours. If she refuses to clean up her act, she’s responsible for the painful consequences that follow.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.