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:

  1. Tell all of the truth. Don’t tell part of the truth. Don’t spin the truth to your viewpoint. Don’t exaggerate.
  2. 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.
  3. Look at the judge. The judge is your audience in most family law hearings.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The judge sees everything. Every facial expression that happens in court, even when sitting in the audience, gets noticed.
  7. Confront negative evidence head-on. Don’t leave the opposing attorney any “gotcha” moments. Be upfront about everything that may come up.
  8. 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.
  9. Focus on your theory of the case and not the “rabbit trails” the other side is pursuing.
  10. 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

 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.