Tips for Testifying At Your Divorce Trial
In any case that proceeds to trial, I am usually asked by my clients, a few days before the trial date, “what can I expect at trial?” This question is usually followed by “is there anything I should or shouldn’t say?” Simply, there is no standard script for testifying at a divorce trial. Since I get to ask questions of my client, as does the opposing side, I can predict what questions will be asked, but I cannot guarantee it. In every case that a litigant has tried to memorize a script, or make up facts, or hide the truth, it inevitably backfires and the witness becomes tongue tied and trapped.
Most parties in a divorce proceeding have never testified before in court. They have no idea what to expect. As a result, we have prepared some practical tips for testifying at your divorce trial:
- Listen to the question being asked.Be sure you understand the question and do not guess about what is being asked of you. If you do not understand the question, tell the attorney or the judge you don’t understand.
- Think about the question and repeat the question in your head before answering. Your answer should try to incorporate the question. For example, if you are asked what is your date of birth? Your answer should be “my date of birth is January 1, 1970.”
- Provide the shortest answer to the question and do not expand – Do not volunteer information.If you are asked “what kind of car do you drive?”Your answer should be “Toyota” not “ a 2002 Toyota Forerunner with 100,000 miles that I still owe money on because I cant get a dime in spousal support.”
- Do not get angry and do not argue with the other side’s attorney.It is very easy to get frustrated with the other side’s lawyer and lash out. This will not go over well with the judge and could affect the overall outcome of your case. No matter how unreasonable the other attorney is, or how angry they make you, do not argue. Maintain a calm composure.
- Answer the question truthfully, even if the answer hurts you.You are obligated to tell the truth and you could face jail time if you don’t. If you have to answer a question that hurts you, do not try to justify your conduct. Answer the question as simply and plainly as possible without offering an explanation.
- Do not help the other side. Our natural inclination is to be agreeable even when we are not. If the other side makes a statement or asks a question you do not agree with, answer truthfully and say no. Agreeing for the sake of agreeing will not help your case.
- Watch out for questions that give a wrongful summation of the facts.Lawyers like to talk and often they will try to summarize testimony before asking the next question. For example, you may be asked a question “isn’t it true that your bank account has tripled in the last year because you are making more money and therefore you can pay more in spousal support?” It may be that you received a one-time bonus at work or worked extra overtime that will not be offered again. Do not agree to this just because the other side’s lawyer is assuming things to be true.