A reader reached out to me recently and asked me what objections I usually run into, as well as how do they work. So, this week we’re going to talk about a few of the common objections, examples of what can trigger them, and how to get around/avoid them.

Just like in any other litigious case, objections are common occurrences in the world of family law. They serve as vital tools for attorneys to protect their clients’ rights and ensure a fair proceeding, while upholding legal standards. Understanding these objections can be crucial for both legal practitioners and parties alike.

1. Relevance: Objections based on relevance are frequently raised during trials. These objections are usually made to evidence or testimony that is not directly related to the case at hand. For example, if a witness is on the stand in a custody case, and is questioned about their issues with the IRS, an objection of relevance can be made. If an objection is made based on relevance, it is then on the other party to establish why the testimony or evidence is important to the case before the court.

2. Leading Questions: Leading questions are questions that suggest a desired answer. In general, they are not allowed during direct examination but are permitted during cross examination. For example, if on direct examination a party’s attorney asks, “You had to leave the home because you were being attacked, correct?” they will likely catch an objection for leading. As a remedy, the asking attorney must then rephrase the question. However, note that certain leading questions are permitted in direct examination. These usually take the form of foundational questions such as “Are you the mother of the petitioner?”.

3. Authentication/Lack of Foundation: Documents and exhibits presented during a trial must be properly authenticated to be admissible. Authentication objections challenge the validity or origin of the evidence. For example, if a photograph is offered into evidence without establishing who took the photo, when they took it, and whether it’s been altered, an objection will shortly follow. These objections can be addressed by laying down the proper foundation to establish the authenticity of the exhibit.

4. Speculation: Objections based on speculation arise when a witness offers opinions or conclusions without a sufficient factual basis. This usually occurs when a witness is asked a question similar to “What do you think was going through the child’s mind at this moment?” The question calls for speculation because there is no possible way to know what is going through another person’s mind. While family law trials frequently involve matters where opinions may be subjective, any question that asks a witness to guess what someone else was thinking or why they did something is likely not going to be allowed. To avoid these objections, a witness will need to give testimony about their firsthand knowledge.

5. Hearsay: Hearsay is probably one of the more complicated rules of evidence. In general, these objections occur when a witness offers out-of-court statements for the truth of the matter asserted. While there are several exceptions as to when hearsay can come in or when an out-of-court statement is considered non-hearsay, these rules have enough substance to be discussed in a separate article. To keep it simple here is a general example. If a witness were to be asked “What did the child’s teacher tell you about his behavior since his father has had primary custody?” you will likely hear an objection on the grounds of hearsay shortly after. It can be asked how the child has been behaving in school, but you cannot ask what the teacher said. If you want the teacher’s testimony to come in, they will need to be present as a witness. Again, you can also get around hearsay by way of an exception based on the rules of evidence, but we’ll go into that another time.

In conclusion, objections in family law trials serve as essential safeguards for fairness and justice. By recognizing and addressing these objections, attorneys and litigants alike contribute to the integrity and legitimacy of the legal system.