In this article we discuss 10 tips that can help you be a good witness in a divorce case or a case affecting the parent-child relationship. Whether you are a party in a family law case, a friend of a party in a family law case or have been subpoenaed to testify, there are 10 rules of thumb to keep in mind when you are a witness.
1. Be honest
Beyond the fact that intentionally lying under oath is a crime, lying on the stand is the worst thing you can do as a witness. If you are caught in your lie, which can easily happen, ALL of your testimony becomes questionable. Just tell the plain truth as you know it, even if it is unpleasant.
2. Be respectful of everyone.
This not only applies to the judge, obviously, but also to the opposing party and their attorney. While it may feel good in the moment to be snarky or sass the opposing attorney or the opposing party, this type of behavior does not go over well with most judges and will diminish the value of your testimony. At a minimum, judges expect you to be civil and to take your role as a witness and the hearing seriously.
3. When the attorneys and judge are talking, you are not.
When you are on the witness stand, attorneys will either be asking you questions or conversing with each other and the judge regarding issues of evidence. When an attorney is asking you a question, do not interrupt the attorney. Allow the attorney to finish the question. If the attorneys are talking between themselves or with the judge, do not interject yourself into these conversations. If you are answering a question and an attorney interrupts you, stop talking. If an opposing attorney has improperly interrupted you, you must trust that the attorney on your side will deal with it.
4. When an objection is sustained, stop answering the question.
Attorneys may object to questions or to answers to questions. Attorneys assert their objections by saying, "Objection." They often do this immediately after a question is asked or even in the middle of your testimony. When you hear the word objection, stop talking. If the judge sustains the objection, you are not permitted to continue with your answer.
5. Listen to the question.
Before you answer a question on the witness stand, make sure you have heard the question fully and you understand the question fully. It is acceptable to ask the attorney to repeat the question or tell the attorney you do not understand the question.
6. Answer the question.
If an attorney asks you a question and you don't like what the answer will be, you still need to answer the question barring a sustained objection or a sustained assertion of privilege by an attorney. Trying to evade the question by asking your own question or giving some off topic or vague answer will only result in the questioning attorney objecting to your answer as non-responsive and the judge instructing you to answer. If you keep evading answering the question, the judge will just grow frustrated with you.
7. Do not go beyond the question.
Honestly and fully answer the question asked, but then stop there. Do not try to get across facts or information that have nothing to do with the question asked. Do not say more than you are required to say. If there's any useful information you want the judge to hear, you have to trust that your attorney will get that information out when examining you.
8. Do not get too emotional.
It is fine to have emotions while testifying, but your emotions should be controlled. Getting too emotional on the stand will diminish your reliability and the value of your testimony. Judges expect you to be on your best behavior in court, and if you can't control yourself in court, that makes a judge wonder how you behave outside of court.
9. Mind your body language.
Judges see everything. Don't slouch. Don't lean back in your chair. Don't put your feet up. Don't interlace your fingers behind your head. Don't cross your arms. Don't look away when you answer a question. Think, "How would I sit if I were talking to someone whom I respected?"
10. Be prepared.
If you are a party to the case, then at minimum, you and your attorney should have reviewed what the topical outline of your testimony will be. You should go into your testimony knowing the road map of the topics to be discussed. You should have also spoken with your attorney about possible cross-examination topics. If you are not a party to the case, then take the time to refresh your memory during the days leading up to your testimony. Think back on your interactions with the parties, and even make notes if you need to do so. While you can't have the notes with you during your testimony, you can refer to them while on the stand to refresh your memory.