Court Appearances & Depositions
Testimony in Court Appearances and Depositions
Your testimony and oral statements in court appearances and during a deposition may be necessary in heavily contested cases. I will help you prepare. You will be judged on your truthfulness and accuracy. You should tell the whole truth and be accurate. BEING ACCURATE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. It is not possible to tell the whole truth without preparation to be accurate. The best way to be accurate is to verify the facts with records and documents long before you speak and be prepared to prove each important fact with your oral statements backed up by your papers, documents, and records. It is necessary to be truthful and accurate to be believed about the facts of your case. Some basic tips will be discussed here that apply to both depositions and court appearances. The most important tips will be reserved for your preparation meeting with me. In that meeting, you will learn everything else you need to know.
Dress professionally in Court as if you are going to church. You do not need to wear a tie. Prepare for court by reviewing important records and documents in advance. Be polite. Always say: "Yes, sir," or "No, ma'am," to the lawyers and judge. Do not use words like “ uh-huh.” Judges and chancellors should be addressed as "Your Honor." Never argue with anyone. If you think that you have given an incorrect or incomplete answer, you can ask to go back to a prior question so that you can correct or complete your testimony.
Listen carefully to every question. Pause very briefly but not for a long time before answering, make sure you understand the question, think, and then be direct with your answer. Fully answer only the question asked of you, and then stop talking. Make sure you are allowed to finish your answer that is related to the question. Do not add any commentary unrelated to the question.
Another tactic is for a lawyer to ask you if you have discussed your testimony with your lawyer or other witnesses. This is asked in a manner calculated to imply that you or a witness have been coached or have been told what to say. The best response I can think of if I was answering is: My lawyer told me to tell the truth and do my best to be accurate. My lawyer asked me to tell him the truth so he could do his job as my attorney. I have not coached anyone. I have not compared facts with witnesses. I have had conversations with some individuals about things outside of this case. Do not try to memorize this. Just understand the issue.
If you do not understand a question, ask for the question to be repeated. When in court, you can turn and give your answers to the judge if the opposing lawyer is being overly aggressive. If you think you are speaking too fast, stop, pause for a second or two, slow down, then finish your answer. Do not look at your lawyer before you answer questions. Others may perceive that you are looking to be told what to say.
Be sure to tell your lawyer if you think you might have a problem. For example, if you think you might get angry, your lawyer can work with you and give you some good techniques to avoid problems. If you lose your temper, you may hurt your case.
Avoid beginning answers with the phrases: "To the best of my recollection," or "I do not recall" or “I want to say” or “I guess" or “maybe” or “it is possible”. This, at times, might suggest that you either do not know what happened or that you are not being completely truthful.
Do not usually pause for more than around 5 to 10 seconds without asking for some water. Very long pauses make you appear to be in trouble telling the truth. It is ok to take about 5 seconds to think before answering. If a lot of dates are involved, you can refer to them by reference if written down in an affidavit or summary, or you can ask to see your affidavit or summary if you forget the exact dates and they are needed.
Talk about facts you know. If you do not know now, find out the facts before the depositions and hearings. You should bring papers with you to prove your point. Do not say your “income or overtime is not guaranteed”. It is not guaranteed that you will be working or even have an income in the future. Instead, talk about your last two years of average overtime, cut backs at work, notices about future overtime being cut back, and reasons your future overtime will be much less -- and bring papers and records to prove your point.
Be aware that in divorce cases, we have full discovery of all papers, records, and documents by the attorney for each side if they ask for it, and they often do before a trial. Be aware that most of your activities eventually show up in discovery one way or another. If you have children, you must always do what is best for them each day putting their needs ahead of your own desires on a daily basis. Judges are very conservative about drinking, drugs, excessive spending, truthfulness issues, partying, having boyfriends or girlfriends around minor children, not providing a proper environment for minor children, children’s grades at school, children being left unsupervised, verbal fighting or arguments with spouse or others in presence of minor child, drinking or immoral behavior in presence of child, making negative comments about your spouse or child, child not behaving, and not providing proper guidance for child.
For those clients having sex with someone other than your spouse before your divorce is final, be aware that affairs or relationships are often discovered through cell phone records, computer records, emails, private detectives following you around, and just asking you when you are under oath and cannot lie. It does not matter much that you are “separated” under the law.
Almost every client needs a great deal of help from their attorney to accumulate, organize, list, communicate, and provide written proof of facts, including income, expenses, assets, and debts. Almost every client needs help to communicate accurately for many reasons. Everyday life does not require this degree of specific knowledge and this degree of specific accuracy, which is needed in legal proceedings.
In many contested cases, you must spend many hours verifying facts. You must spend many hours accumulating and organizing records, papers, and documents. You need to become an expert on the facts involving your income, expenses, value of your assets, and amount of your debts. You need to provide written proof of these facts and keep copies in file folders. With my help, you will probably do well.
If the other attorney is foolish enough at trial to ask you "WHY?" or to ask you to provide a reason or explanation at trial, then this is your opportunity to tell everything in your favor, and do not let him stop you until you have finished your answer. Also, if you are interrupted by the other attorney when you are giving a good answer you are entitled to finish your answer. Only one person can speak at a time. Stop talking during objections by a lawyer until the objection has been ruled upon by the Judge. If the Judge says “Objection Sustained”, this means that the Judge agrees with the lawyer making the original objection and that the question should not be answered. Beware of double negatives in questions put to you or answers by you. The result will be confusing. Two negatives make a positive (or a confusing answer).
Be as positive about yourself as possible while being truthful and accurate. Do not make unwarranted or unnecessary admissions against your interest unless absolutely necessary to be accurate. Do not volunteer negatives about yourself unless a direct question makes it necessary to answer truthfully and accurately. You are required to answer only the specific question asked - not to reveal negatives about yourself that are not directly asked. Do not play games with the meaning of words to give a deceptive answer. This type of deception is considered by Judges to be lying under oath. If a party is caught lying under oath, they are not believed about anything. Not being believed about anything is very destructive to a party’s case and usually results in a bad outcome. I want to help you communicate truthfully and accurately, and at the same time present a strong case (in the light most favorable to you) to promote a very good outcome. The key is preparation and accurate, truthful, positive communication through your testimony, your witnesses’ testimony, and the documents and records you produce. Papers, documents, and records must be provided to verify your income, expenses, assets, debts, and other important matters.
If your have minor children:
In your thoughts, words, and actions, always place the interests of any minor children first each day. Love your children and provide for their emotional, physical, and financial needs through your words and actions each day.