Both parties are expected to testify in family court if the case requires trial. In many cases, the parties are the only witnesses and their testimony significantly affects the outcome of the case. Though testifying in family court can be nerve-racking, a little bit of preparation can improve the experience and the results.
Tell the Truth
This probably seems obvious, right? All witnesses who testify in family court take an oath to tell the truth. But many witnesses, especially parties to the family law litigation, may try to exaggerate an answer or even conceal details they perceive to be insignificant. The problem isn’t always the substance of the untruth, it is the impression made on the judge when witness credibility is impeached. Even if you offer an hour of true testimony, it can be tarnished by a moment of dishonesty. If you worry a question intentionally paints you in a negative light, you should have an opportunity to offer rebuttal or rehabilitative testimony to provide additional context.
Give Short, Concise Answers
This goes in total concert with the previous section. Verbal gymnastics to circumvent or evade a question annoy the judge and make witnesses look less credible. Witnesses who excessively explain their answers may lose the judge’s attention and typically are more vulnerable to cross examination. It also wastes time, a precious resource in family court.
Take a Moment Before You Answer
Especially on cross examination where it may be the opposing attorney’s goal to confuse you or otherwise impeach your credibility, take a breath before you answer the question. This gives you time to hear and process the entire question and to formulate your answer more thoughtfully and coherently than you might if you answer impulsively. If you do not understand the question, ask the party or attorney to rephrase. Don’t risk an answer susceptible to multiple interpretations.
Control Your Emotions
Family court proceedings can be emotional and the additional stress of testifying in family court makes things worse. But control your emotions. You want to appear calm and rational. It is perfectly fine to care about your case and, particularly, your children. But uncontrolled emotions can destroy your case. This is especially important during cross examination because it may be the other party’s strategy to agitate you in court.