Custody Preparation for Moms

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HOW TO TESTIFY IN COURT

The following information will help you learn how to testify in court.

This information is very important. How you look and sound to the judge may determine whether or not he or she will find you credible, and could weigh heavily in the outcome of your case. One New York mother, for example, lost custody of her two young sons in 1993 mainly because the judge presiding over her divorce thought that she looked angry in the courtroom.

Tell the Truth Convincingly

When you testify in court, you will, of course, tell the truth. You want to tell the truth in a clear and convincing way, not in a confusing and stumbling way. The purpose of these instructions for witnesses is to help you testify so that your testimony is clear and easily understood.

How To Answer Questions

Answer questions directly and simply. the best answer starts with a "yes" or "no" (if the question can be answered "yes" or "no"). and then has one to three sentences of explanation. For example, "Yes, we have three children." "Yes, when we married, we put a down payment on the home' my parents loaned us $20,000, and the entire amount was used for the down payment."

Listen To The Question

Listen carefully to the question that is asked, and answer it. This is particularly true when it is the judge who asks the question. You may explain your answer, but answer the question.

Don't Worry About Looking Stupid

Don't worry about whether you look stupid. Just tell the truth, and don't make up answers when you aren't sure of the answer. For example, if an attorney says to you in an indignant and shocked manner, "Didn't you read that before you signed it?!" If you did not read it before signing it, say so. Don't let the attorney's manner bully you into an incorrect answer. Don't let your fear of looking stupid push you into making up answers. Don't guess. If you answer is an estimate or only an approximation, say so. It is okay to say you are making an estimate, but you should not just guess at an answer.

It's OK Not To Remember

If you don't remember something, say, "I don't remember." This is very important. If you are asked about doing something, and you don't specifically remember what you didn't, say so. You can offer to testify as to your usual practice, and tell the court this is what you are doing: "I don't remember what I did on February 27, but usually I go straight home from work, arriving about 6 PM."

It's OK To Talk To People About Your Case

If you are asked who you discussed the case with, be honest and tell the court who you talked to. On the other hand, discussions with an attorney are privileged and confidential, and while you can say you talked to an attorney, you should not reveal what was said by you and by the attorney.

State What You Personally Saw or Heard

In court if you are asked if you "know" something, this usually means you are being asked whether you personally saw or you personally heard something. If your answer is based solely on what someone else told you, say so. In everyday life people feel they "know" things that others have told them, but in court this is not what is meant by "know."

Be Careful of Questions With "All" or "None " in Them

In court if a question has the word "all" or "none," you need to understand that this does not mean "almost all" or "hardly any." "All" means absolutely every single one with no exceptions, and "none" means not even one single one. Be very careful about questions with "all" and "none" in them. When asked, "Is that all?" you may want to say, "That is all that I can think of right now." Don't say, That's all he said," or "Nothing else occurred." You may well remember other examples later.

Don't Guess About The Lawyer's Motives

Don't try to guess why you are being asked each question. Just focus on giving truthful answers. This is the best way to respond to tricky questions -- with truth.

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Do not discuss the case at all in the courthouse hallways, restrooms, or elevators. That nice lady near you may be your spouse's lawyer's secretary.

Miscellaneous Pointers

Don't put your hand over your mouth while you testify.
Do not chew gum.
Don't memorize your testimony.
Do not argue with the other party.
Address your remarks to the judge, not to your spouse. The only time you will talk to your spouse is when you cross-examine him/her.

Some materials drawn from Karen Winner's site at http://www.divorcedfromjustice.com/witninst.htm


 

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