Tips for Testifying in Court by Houston family lawyer 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, has refused to settle anything. The only way out is to actually go to court on your divorce.
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 very practical tips for testifying in court:
- Listen to the question. Make certain you understand the question. If you do not understand the question, ask the attorney to repeat the question.
- Repeat the question in your head.
- Answer the question with the shortest answer consistent with the truth, and shut up.
- Do not volunteer information.
- Do not get angry.
- Answer the question truthfully, even if the answer hurts you.
- Watch out for the compound question.
- Watch out for the question that assumes facts that are not true.
- Watch out for questions that give a wrongful summation of the facts.
- Do not characterize your testimony.
- Try to avoid using absolute words, like “no”, “never”, and “all”.
- Avoid getting boxed in with “everything you remember”, or “everything you know”.
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. It is best to find a court that is actually conducting a trial, whether there is a jury, or a bench trial, or the judge is conducting a formal hearing, with the witness on the witness stand, counsel at counsel tables, and different witnesses.
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.