How to Be a Good Witness in Divorce Court
Have you been asked to appear as a witness in a divorce hearing? Divorce court can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Even if you know what you wish to say, answering questions on the spot during the examination can be overwhelming and may make you nervous or confused. In order to act as a beneficial witness, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier and more successful.
Does Every Divorce Need a Witness?
Witnesses are not called in every divorce, though they can be beneficial in certain circumstances. Typically, witnesses are used in cases where either spouse’s character or actions have come into question. In other words, a spouse may attempt to prove the other’s bad behavior in order to affect decisions in the divorce, such as property division, alimony, or child custody.
For example, if a spouse is accused of domestic violence, witnesses might come forward to explain abusive situations they’ve seen, or they may vouch for the accused person’s upstanding character. Witnesses can also help in cases where parents are fighting over child custody.
What Does a Witness Do?
The main objective of a divorce witness is to provide the court with first-hand knowledge of one or both spouses. Usually, this knowledge will focus on a specific concern or behavior, but not always. The witness is not encouraged to speak about things they heard or were told, but only of things they themselves have witnessed. In some courts, the witness cannot be a family member, but friends, colleagues, or other close personal associates are commonly accepted.
How Does the Process Work?
Before the hearing even begins, the witness typically meets with the attorney of the individual they will be speaking for. The attorney will inform the witness of any questions they will ask in court and explain the process in full. Next, the witness will attend the divorce hearing. In family court, cases are decided by a judge, which means there is no jury present. At the appropriate time, the judge will swear the witness in and invite the party who called the witness to ask their questions. After that, the opposing party will be free to question the witness during a process called the cross-examination. Lastly, the other party will be allowed to ask any remaining questions before the witness leaves.
A character witness should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Always tell the absolute truth. Lying in court is illegal and could have serious consequences.
- Be prepared. The party who called you as a witness will tell you what they’d like you to speak about ahead of time, so you shouldn’t be blindsided. Make sure you think over the details of what you’ll be sharing with the court so that you can speak confidently when your time comes.
- Answer what you can. Some questions may be difficult to answer, particularly those from the opposing party, but do your best to truthfully answer what you can.
- Remain calm. Speaking before a judge can be daunting, especially when the opposing party is asking you questions meant to corner you or twist your words. However, getting angry or arguing with the attorney during the cross-examination will not do anybody any good. So, remain calm and try to collect your thoughts before you speak.
Acting as a character witness in a divorce can be challenging, but an experienced divorce attorney can help guide you through the process smoothly and efficiently. If you are going through a divorce and want to know what your character witness will go through or whether or not you need a witness, our firm can help you.
Contact McKinley Irvin at our Oregon office to meet with our divorce lawyers.