Before you come to court, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to persuade the judge or do you want to vent your feelings? The likelihood of the judge paying attention to one more angry party to a divorce case is small; giving sympathy on the basis of an emotional rant is even less. Judges can be persuaded by facts clearly and appropriately presented. The following suggestions can increase the likelihood of persuasions.
Dress nicely for all court appearances, especially those in which you will be testifying. It is unfortunate that people judge other people by the clothes they wear, but they do. If you want the judge to think you are respectable then dress respectable. Women should wear little makeup or jewelry.
Stand and sit erect. When you take the oath, clearly say “I do.” Do not slouch in the witness stand or slur your words. Be serious. When speaking, do not wave your arms. Do not ask the judge if you have to answer a question. If it should be objected to, I will object to it; otherwise, you must answer it. Never interrupt the judge. Do not speak unless spoken to. Do not cover your mouth or avert your eyes.
Look at the judge when you talk. Remember, you are trying to convince the judge. Do not talk to me, I already believe you. Do not talk to the other attorney, because will they are paid not to believe you. Do not look at me before you answer the question as if you are seeking help or after you answer the question as if you are seeking approval.
Do not react to other witnesses’ testimony. Your reaction will aggravate the judge and you will look childish.
Be polite; it makes a good impression on the court. Answer “Yes sir” or “madam” and address the judge as “Your Honor.” Do not be a smart aleck, or appear nervous or angry. If the other side baits you into becoming angry, it is probably trying to set you up for a trap, so keep your cool. Lose your temper, and you may lose your case.
Be nice. Judges tend to like nice people. If someone needs to get tough, let it be me. I have more experience in making that call.
If you want to tell me something, pass me a note. If you talk to me, I may miss something in court that I need to hear.
Tell the truth. It usually will come out eventually anyway, and it is better coming from you than from the other side. If the other side catches you in a lie, you may lose your case. I have watched more than one person ruin a good case by not telling the truth on an unimportant point. Then when the person tells the truth on a critical point, no one believes them.
Listen carefully to all questions, whether posed by me or by the other side. Pause, make sure you understand the question, then take your time and answer that question. You cannot give a truthful and accurate answer if you do not understand the question. If you ask, the attorney will repeat the question. Do not tell the court “I think” or what it “must have been.” The court does not normally care what you think or what could have happened. It wants to know what actually happened. However, if you estimate a time or a cost, make sure the court knows it is an estimate. If you make a mistake during your testimony, correct it as soon as possible. Politely say something such as, “May I correct something I said earlier?”
When the other side asks you a question you do not know the answer to, say “I do not know.” Being led into areas about which their knowledge is inadequate often traps witnesses. They try to save face and end up making a statement that is incorrect. This gives the other side what it needs to attack their credibility. You can usually avoid the problem by saying “I do not know.”
In cross-examinations most questions can be answered with “yes,” “no,” “I do not know,” or with a simple sentence. Do not use “Watergate” words. When you say “to the best of my recollection,” people think you are getting ready to lie to them. If it is all you remember, say, “It is all I remember.” If you remember something else later, tell what you remember.
Do not volunteer information. Do not let the other attorney pull you into testifying more than you need to by standing there looking at you, waiting for you to add material. When you are finished with your answer, shut up.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is for the other side to ask you if you have discussed the case with your attorney or other witnesses. If the other side asks that tell the truth–you have. The other side is not asking you if you have fabricated the story, but is asking if you have talked about it. Only a fool would go to court without having discussed the case with his or her attorney and his or her witnesses. If the other side asks you if I have told you what to say, say that I told you to tell the truth–because I have.
Do not let the other side trick you by asking you if you are willing to swear to what you are saying. You already did when you took the oath as a witness.
We are all afraid of things we do not understand. A visit to the court before your case may make you more comfortable about your court appearance. After you watch a few cases, you will see that no one dies or is physically injured when testifying. You will feel better when it is your turn. To help yourself, you will want to review any documents you will refer to during your testimony. Also, review any statement you made, and talk to friends, family, or coworkers to recall details you have forgotten.
Always check with my office before court to make sure your case will be heard. Often cases are continued by the court for one reason or another, and we do not want you to waste a trip downtown if it is avoidable.