Part 2: How To Be The Best Witness in Divorce or Paternity Trials
This article is part two of a two part series discussing tips that can help your testimony go much smoother.
Never GuessOne of the most common things you will see people do is to start answering a question before the attorney has finished asking the question. The reason is that the witness is guessing or assuming what they think the attorney is asking. Don’t guess! Wait for the attorney to ask the question, listen to the question, and then answer the question asked. Don’t answer what you think the attorney is trying to ask. Answer what was actually asked.
Look The PartCourt is serious business. The way you present yourself makes a difference. If you show up looking like you are headed to the beach, it will impact your case. Show that you take it seriously and dress professionally. You don’t need to go out and buy a suit if you don’t already own one, but wear a shirt and tie. Throw on a jacket, and that’s even better.
Don’t Commit To A Something Unless You Are PositiveTry to avoid saying this like “always” and “never” unless you are 100% positive about your answer. Usually, an attorney is not going to ask you a question unless they already know the answer. So, the attorney is asking the question for a reason. They want to see how you are going to answer or they are trying to get a reaction.
Unless you are positive (things like birthdays, anniversaries, etc) it is acceptable to say approximately when it comes to dates. For other questions, its better to say “to the best of my recollection” or “that’s all I can remember at this moment” than to make a bold statement like “That never happened.” Unless of course you are absolutely positive.
Once you commit yourself to a specific answer, if you are wrong, this will then be used to attack your credibility. A common question might be, “Have you ever told a lie?” I don’t know anyone who can honestly say no. However, some people will say no. Almost always what follows is a question something like “So, are you as sure about this answer as you are about the rest of your testimony?’
Tell The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The TruthThere is a saying that the coverup is worse than the crime. Just tell the truth. Don’t try to play semantics, outsmart the other attorney, or game the system. The court will respect a truthful answer even if that answer is embarrassing or hard to admit.
If you know that you messed up, I think it is better to own it and accept responsibility. Trying to B.S. the Judge is far more damaging than simply saying, “I screwed up.”
Don’t Make It Harder Than It Needs to BeI’m going to say the same thing twice, it’s that important. One of the most common things people do is to start answering a question before the attorney has finished asking. Don’t to that! You may guess wrong and answer a different question. Besides looking silly, you will be making your testimony harder than it needs to be. Do it too many times and the Judge is probably going to say something. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
ConclusionI won’t sugarcoat this: You will be nervous, especially if you have never had to testify before. Testifying will not be fun and will not be something you will want to do again anytime soon. This is normal. I don’t know that it’s even possible to ever be completely prepared because there can always be surprises. Control the things that you can control and prepare the best you can. Ask questions. Plan in advance for all the known issues and know how you will answer. Knowing what to expect will serve to reduce the stress of the unknown.
These tips, or any suggestions contained in any of my posts, are NOT a substitute for having a good attorney represent you. Always hire an attorney, there are no exceptions.