Rule 1: LISTEN TO THE QUESTION ASKED
While this may seem like a rather obvious rule, the majority of witnesses have a hard time following the rule’s simple instruction. Most of the time, witnesses are nervous and will be more inclined to simply “hear”, instead of “listen” to each question.
A helpful technique to be sure you are listening to each question is to repeat the question in your head. If you cannot repeat the question in your head, then you either did not hear the question or you have forgotten the question. In this case, you can certainly request that the attorney repeat the question.
Rule 2: MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION ASKED
None of us like to look ignorant, especially when put on the spot in front of a soon-to-be-ex-spouse. Consequently, witnesses often attempt to answer a question without having a full and complete understanding of the question.
Make sure you fully understand each question before you attempt to answer.
Rule 3: ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED AND ONLY THE QUESTION ASKED
Once you have listened to the question, answer only that question and do not offer any additional information.
Never answer a question by asking a question.
Do not be evasive with your answers.
Rule 4: TAKE YOUR TIME
Witnesses are not under any particular time limit to answer questions that are posed to them. Take your time when answering.
Rule 5: DON’T ARGUE
It is understandable that you are not going to like the other attorney. It is also understandable that some of your animosity towards that other attorney may wear off on your other witnesses. There has never been a recorded circumstance where a party has convinced the opposing counsel during cross-examination that their position is the right one. It just does not happen. The attorney on the other side is never going to agree with your position no matter how eloquently you plead your case. So don’t bother trying.
Rule 6: DO NOT GUESS
The purpose of a trial is to reach the truth. A guess, even if it is an educated guess, is not the truth. It is perfectly acceptable to answer “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”
Rule 7: AVOID BOXING YOURSELF IN
Be very careful in your answers to avoid using absolutes such as “always,” “never,” “all,” and “every”, unless you are absolutely sure it is the right answer. Lawyers will jump on those absolutes whenever they can, and they will make you look silly. It can be hard to remember every last thing that you have said, done and seen in your life. It is better to say “I don’t believe so” or “I do not recall that” rather than “I never said that” or “that never happened.” Additionally, it is almost always better for you to leave yourself open by responding “to the best of my recollection” or “that is all I can remember at this time.”
Rule 8: ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH
As shocking as it may seem, sometimes witnesses do not tell the truth.
Honesty, simplicity and sincerity go a long way with the Court. Evading questions or telling fantastical stories will only hurt you.
If you know that there was a time that you behaved badly, it is better to own up to it openly and honestly, accept responsibility for your actions, acknowledge the consequences, and be remorseful.
Rule 9: BE ON TIME
Being prompt shows responsibility and the importance that you place on the issues at hand.
Rule 10: DRESS AND ACT APPROPRIATELY
You should dress for court as if you are going to church to or to an important business meeting.
Be very cautious about making jokes or sarcastic comments, in the courtroom or even out in the hall. Some people use humor to calm themselves or to “lighten” the situation, but in Family Court it will usually come across as inappropriate.
It is perfectly acceptable to show appropriate emotions. If you start to cry, do not get angry at yourself. Take a moment to collect yourself. If you need to take a break, it is acceptable to request a few minutes. Do not let your emotions get out of control, but appropriate emotional responses tend to show sincerity and lend credibility to the testimony.