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Testifying In Divorce Court

When a party is required to give testimony in divorce court it is usually because there’s an argument over one of two questions. The first is child custody, and the second concerns property division.

If you listen to your lawyer, you often will hear the same piece of advice given about any type of courtroom testimony. It usually goes as follows: “Answer the question given to you, and only the question, do not elaborate.” An analogy: Only a little water will clean you up nicely–too much of it and you are likely to drown. Lawyers do understand that there’s a huge temptation to give the full story in response to a single question, but the more you speak the more ammunition you may give your opponent. To summarize, why assist the opposing lawyer in looking good? Keep it short!

Second, if you have made a huge mistake in life, do not volunteer it, but simply fess-up when asked. Trust me, if you’ve screwed up royally, the opposing lawyer has a witness who will remind the Court, and everyone else, what you did. It is always easier if you are the one to do it first, not in a dramatic way, but merely as an acknowledgement of human frailty. In short, if you are seeking custody and have had a drug problem, it will hurt you, and perhaps it should. But lying about it only to have a cop get on the stand afterwards, and talk about your long rap sheet will do much worse for you than simply admitting the problem yourself.

Third, never ever say on the witness stand: “You can’t prove it!” Or perhaps, “It’s my word against his/her’s.” The translation of these words to the Judge is: “Heck yes I did it Judge! But I’m not going to tell you that here!” The result of such testimony is the same as an admission of guilt, only worse.

Finally, always adhere to this advice: If you don’t know the answer to a question, then say that you don’t know–don’t speculate or guess! This advice applies even to things that you should know! Speculation gives the opposing party a chance to show the Judge that your testimony is unreliable. For example, you are arguing over custody of your third grade daughter and the opposing lawyers asks, “who’s your child’s homeroom teacher?” If you don’t know then say it; don’t blurt out “Smith!” Yes, not knowing hurts but judges understand that lawyers’ cross-examination questions are intended to hurt. In this scenario, your own lawyer might well come back and say “Well he doesn’t know the homeroom teacher, but he knows the names of the gym teacher, principals, ARD advisors, and every physician she’s ever been to!” That’s an ideal recovery to a missed question. So the underlying lesson to be learned here is: be prepared! Proper Prior Preparation Permits Peak Performance!