Even though most divorces don't end up going to trial, if you find yourself testifying in court there are several things to keep in mind: What kind of questions you will be asked and how you should answer them, how you should present yourself before the court, and what to expect from the whole process. The following article by Attorney John K. Grubb does a great job of providing insight into what to expect from your divorce trial.
by Attorney John K. Grubb
When you filed your divorce, you thought you and your spouse would be able to agree upon everything, and you would get a divorce as soon as the minimum waiting period passed. Of course, one of the reasons you wanted a divorce is that your spouse is a very uncooperative person. And of course, once you started the divorce, your spouse showed his or her uncooperative nature again and has refused to settle anything.
You receive a call from your attorney advising you that the case is set for trial on a certain date. All of a sudden, you are facing the prospect of having to actually testify about the peculiar facts of your case. Of course, you know that the Judge will administer an oath to you along the lines of "do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" You also know it is perjury to go into court and lie. You would not do that.
However, you have never testified before in court. You do not have any idea what to expect. Here are some practical tips for testifying in court:
1. Listen to the question. Make certain you understand the question. If you do not understand the question, ask the attorney to repeat the question.
2. Repeat the question in your head.
3. Only answer the question with the shortest answer consistent with the truth, and shut up. If you are asked "what kind of car do you drive?" answer "a Ford" not "a 2004 Ford Mustang GT Convertible with red leather seats".
4. Do not volunteer information. If you are asked "do you own IBM stock?" and the answer is no, simply say "no", rather than "I owned 400 shares of IBM stock back in 2001, but I sold them and used part of the money to buy the Corvette and the rest of the money for our Mexican vacation".
5. Do not get angry.
6. Answer the question truthfully, even if the answer hurts you. If you have to answer a question that hurts you, do not try to justify your conduct. For example, if you have had an affair and you are asked "did you have sex with ______?" simply answer "yes". Do not say something like "well, my spouse and I have not had sex for two years so I thought it was okay".
7. Watch out for the compound question. Our natural inclination is to try to agree with someone asking questions. For example, you may be asked two questions in one - and the answer to one part may be "yes" and the other part may be "no". If you are asked a compound question, break it down into two questions and answer each part truthfully.
8. Watch out for the question that assumes facts that are not true.
9. Watch out for questions that give a wrongful summation of the facts. For example, you may be asked a question along these lines "isn't it true that your business revenue has doubled in the last 5 years, the number of employees has doubled in the last 5 years and so we can assume that your business will probably double again in the next 5 years". Your natural inclination may be to say "well, I guess so". It may be that you're your revenue double over the last 5 years because you have had to handle a high volume of low margin merchandise with a decrease in profitability. If that is the situation the respond by saying "Counsel your summation and conclusions not correct" Then stop. Make the lawyer come back and ask you to explain. The tell the lawyer something like this "Because of foreign competition we have had to sell a high volume of low margin merchandise with less profit - and the future does not look good"
10. Do not characterize your testimony. Do not use phrases like "that is the truth" or "honestly" or "I would not lie to you", etc.
11. Try to avoid using absolute words, like "no", "never", and "all".
12. Avoid getting boxed in with "everything you remember", or "everything you know". If a lawyer asks you to tell me "everything you remember" or "everything you know", always say at the end "that is all I can recollect at this time." Then, at a later date, if you remember something else, you will not have boxed yourself in.
13. If you do not remember something, say so.
14. Be respectful and formal.
If you live in a city that has a number of different courts, I strongly suggest that you take a day off, go to the courthouse, and watch several trials. I do suggest that you do not go in the courtroom before the judge that you will actually appearing before, in your case. Instead, watch a criminal case, a personal injury case, probate case, or a divorce case in another court. .
You cannot remake the facts of your case. However, by diligent preparation before you go to trial, you will enhance the probability that the court will look favorably upon the facts of your case.
John K. Grubb is an experienced lawyer who handled family law and divorce matters in the Houston Metro area for over 40 years. You want to make sure that the lawyer you select is someone that has the compassion to understand your case, but is also aggressive enough to get you what you deserve. Mr. Grubb is now retired.
In addition to testifying in court, the following articles may also be useful as you navigate your divorce: