Having to testify in your divorce trial or that of a friend or relative? The top, most important tip for any witness is to just tell the truth. That may seem like an obvious statement. But, when you are on the stand and feel like the world is caving in because everyone is looking at you, it is easy for your mind to not think straight or clearly. You may not think of all of the aspects of a question. For example, if asked about your observations of a fight between the parents in front of the children that you witnessed, you may forget some details when you are telling the story in court. While you may have told the truth, it is not the whole truth. If you know that you are going to be asked about certain topics, try to refresh your memory before you testify and have the relevant details in your mind.
Here’s some tips for how to be a good witness:
- Tell all of the truth. Don’t tell part of the truth. Don’t spin the truth to your viewpoint. Don’t exaggerate.
- Answer only the questions asked. Don’t go off on a tangent or try to tell other things you want to talk about. You will be called down by the judge.
- Look at the judge. The judge is your audience in most family law hearings.
- Control your emotions. While measured emotion can be useful to make a point, unchecked emotion such as anger or sadness can cause damage to your credibility as a witness.
- Be positive. Taking cheap shots or intentionally slinging mud will not go over well. Allow the judge to draw his own conclusions based on your observations.
- The judge sees everything. Every facial expression that happens in court, even when sitting in the audience, gets noticed.
- Confront negative evidence head-on. Don’t leave the opposing attorney any “gotcha” moments. Be upfront about everything that may come up.
- Listen to the question carefully and fully before giving an answer. Watch for the opposing attorney to reframe the question into something that mischaracterizes the witness’ statements.
- Focus on your theory of the case and not the “rabbit trails” the other side is pursuing.
- Be the voice of reason. Judges appreciate those with objectivity and problem-solving mentality.
Hat tip to Brad Litchfield and his article 10 Case-Winning Witness Prep Tips from FamilyLawyerMagazine.com