27 Apr TIPS FOR GIVING TESTIMONY IN A FAMILY COURT TRIAL
*Baer Family Law conducts trials in front of judges, not juries, and so this article is written accordingly.
For most people, providing testimony in court is a very stressful and nerve-racking experience, especially when the proceeding is about your own life and children. Preparing with your attorney and on your own can help ease at least some of your anxiety. As with anything, preparation and expectations are key.
The main purpose of testimony is to tell your story. It is your opportunity to provide the judge the facts and information they will need to make decisions in your favor. You must be credible. Lacking credibility is one of the surest ways to destroy your case.
Before the hearing, review information to refresh your memory. This can include affidavits, anticipated trial exhibits, prior court filings, photos, and other notes/journals that you may have. Also gather information you will need for your testimony. For example, if the distance between your child’s school and a parent’s residence is relevant to your case, make sure you have noted the distance in advance and be prepared to explain how you did so to provide credibility.
Dress and appear professional. Do not dress too casually or too formally. Business casual attire is often best. Even today, continue to be cautious about how tattoos, piercings and the like may be perceived.
When it is your time to testify, most often your attorney will ask you questions first. The other party/their attorney will have a chance to cross examine you. After cross examination, your attorney will have an opportunity to ask follow-up questions to clarify anything necessary.
During your testimony:
- Listen carefully to the question.
- Make sure you understand the question. If you do not, say so.
- Think before you give your answer.
- Speak conversationally, clearly and at a reasonable pace. Speak confidently.
- Maintain your composure and stay calm. You are in a formal setting. Act professionally.
- ALWAYS be respectful to the Judge. They are to be addressed as “Your Honor”.
- Ask for a break if you need one.
- Always answer questions truthfully.
- Provide answers as concisely as possible.
- Be careful when using absolutes such as “never”, “always” or “that is all”. Do not use these words unless you are 100% sure they are accurate.
- When appropriate, qualify your responses using phrases such as, “to the best of my knowledge” and “to the best of my recollection”.
- If you misspeak or provide inaccurate testimony, talk with your attorney right away about correcting the mistake.
- Know important details – your children’s birthdates, where they attend school and what grade they are in, their doctor’s names, etc.
- Neglect to prepare.
- Appear sloppy. If appearing by Zoom, act as though you are in a courtroom.
- Wear a hat.
- Speak/gesture inaudibly.
- Be in a rush.
- Lose your temper.
- Become argumentative.
- Answer a question that you do not understand.
- Read or look at documents during your testimony, unless given express permission to do so by the Judge.
- Volunteer additional information, especially during cross examination.
- Chew gum/eat.
- Answer questions anticipating what you think the attorney is trying to get you to say. If it is your attorney asking you questions, they will continue to probe until the information sought is elicited. If you are being cross-examined, your attorney will have an opportunity to ask you additional questions if you need to clarify something.
In addition to traditional legal representation, Baer Family Law offers limited scope representation, including litigation support and consultation. If you are preparing to give testimony and you do not have an attorney, contact Rebecca to inquire about this service.
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Authored by: Rebecca R. Baer, Esq.