My last blog posting endeavored to get you, the litigant in a Colorado divorce or custody case, ready to testify in court. In continuing the topic from that posting, below are more tips to prepare you for that day. As a family law attorney, the primary goal is seeing each client finish a case with their desired outcome. These tips are important, as you, too, are an integral part of the process.
5. Do not try to out fox the other attorney with your testimony. Let your family law attorney do that with his or her re-direct examination. Your job is to answer questions. The attorney’s job is to frame the story. Your attorneys job is to also do the crafty thinking. Work together as a team. Though the opposing attorney’s job is to trip you up or make you appear incredible, the truth is what matters most. Just listen and answer the questions, truthfully.
6. Along this same line, do not try to be cute, overly whitty, or arrogant with your responses. Courts can become quite annoyed with a pompous, cocky, or holier-than-though witnesses or party. Be polite. Be plain. Keep the flare and your opinions to a minimum. You want the judge to like you.
7. Do not play the religion card. I, personally, have nothing against religion. However, most courts do not perceive that religion really has a place in a hearing regarding alimony, visitation, or any other family law subjects. The religion card, as I call it, is most often used in custody hearings. People often think that judges will equate their going to church or professing their faith as a sign that they will be a better parent than their ex. In reality, judges often roll their eyes and find such behavior to be insincere and simple pandering to the court’s potential own religous view points. Keep in mind that though you may be Christian or Moslem, your judge might be Jewish or an Atheist. Again, nothing wrong with religion, but attempting to use it in your testimony may very well back fire.
8. Be cool, calm, and collected in the courtroom. No eye rolling, no head shaking, no blurting out, “liar,” when your ex is on the stand. The judge is watching you. You are a caring mother, father, husband, or wife focused on professionally dealing with the issues at hand. Again, off the stand theatrics or behavior can also make or break a case.
9. Don’t look to your attorney or family or friends in the gallery for answers when testifying. Be ready to answer questions. When you look to others, you look stuck on the question and the answer you give may appear fabricated. If those supporters actually try to mouth your answer to you the judge will blow a gasket. When making an answer you find to be important you might want to look at the judge. Let him or her see the sincerity in your eyes.
10. Don’t be overly emotional. Divorce and custody are emotional subjects. Sometimes people cry. We can all get choked up when discussing our children or something upsetting related to them. A tear now and then, particularly when related to a subject which should be emotional, can go a long way. Hamming it up to the point of crying about mundane financial or normally non-emotional subjects in your divorce case might win you an Oscar, but it will not be viewed well by a judge. The court wants the facts, minus the drama.
11. Do not argue with or show your anger towards the other attorney. It is quite common, in a Denver visitation or custody case, for one side or the other to raise the issue of the other parent’s temper. Attorneys are just waiting to set the other party off. They are waiting for you to show venom and anger. So are judges. If you can’t keep your cool on the stand how can you possibly be even tempered when dealing with your chidren? Don’t get sucked into an argument. Let you attorney do the ugly work. Keep an even keel and tell your story with conviction, not anger.
12. Most importantly: tell the truth. You will be testifying under oath. To lie under oath is to commit perjury, a crime with potentially serious consequences. Aside from any criminal ramifications, again, the judge will be continually assessing your credibility, perhaps even waiting for gaps in such. You need to assume that the other attorney may also have information, documentation, or logic designed to trip you up or trap you in an untruth. Beyond outright lieing, even partial truths, exagerations, or imbelishments can sink your ship. You might claim, for example in a Denver alimony case, that you just can’t afford something. The other attorney will certainly have gone through your financial disclosures, dead set on showing, and in fact using your own signed staterment against you, that you can. The point is that you would be surprised what is out their to be used against you. Know what you’ve said as your case has progressed and stick to it. Hopefully that has been the truth.
13. Avoid absolutes, such as “always” or “never” unless they are truly applicable. Courts are looking, particularly in a Colorado custody case, for parties to say things such as “I never yell at my kids” or ” I always get them to school on time.” Courts are looking for you to be human. Keep in mind that “always” and “never” tie into the imbellishment or exxageration stated above.
I could go on and on with more tips for testifying. I don’t want to share every trick of the trade. Some insights are left only for my clients. The guidance set forth in these last two blog postings should be sufficient in terms of providing you ample food for thought when getting ready to testify at your hearing. Most imporantly ask your attorney questions. They should be happy to answer them. I know the Denver custody and divorce attorneys at Plog & Stein, P.C. are.