In part one of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC’s series of blog posts on in court testimony, we discussed the importance of always telling the truth on the witness stand as well as how understanding the question being asked of you is an underrated yet critical part of testifying well. If you have not yet done so, I highly recommend you go back and read yesterday’s blog before reading today’s.
Today’s blog will go over how to answer the question being asked of you and control yourself when answering questions from opposing counsel that is intended to frustrate, annoy, or even anger you.
How answering the question that is asked can be easier said than done
“Do you know what time it is?” This is a question that I will ask a client who is preparing to testify in a few minutes.
The response that I receive from clients almost without fail is a peek at a clock or their watch and then the actual time of day. While this is precisely the response that you would want to give in court in most scenarios, it is not. Let me explain why.
The question I asked is intended to elicit a response that, while correct, is not a proper response to the question being asked of you. Look at the question again.
I was asking the client if they knew what time it was. I wasn’t asking what time it was. There is a difference. The answer to my question should either be “yes” or “no.” Providing the actual time of day jumped ahead a question.
I may have wanted you to tell me the time eventually, but I needed to make sure you knew the time first in order so that I could ask you what specific time it was.
This is an essential lesson in a few ways. When your attorney is asking you questions, it can be easy to see where they are trying to get responses out of you. For one, you and your attorney probably prepared in the days before the hearing, so you know what your attorney will ask.
Secondly, witness questions are intended to be brief and straightforward so that the witness does not get confused and their response stays concise and easy for the judge to follow.
That doesn’t mean that you can try and jump ahead and answer the “ultimate” question that your attorney is trying to get to. Lawyers often need to lay what is called a “foundation” to introduce evidence or merely bring a judge up to speed on an issue.
By answering a question that may be asked in a few moments, you run the risk of destroying the judge’s narrative or harming your attorney’s ability to have documents introduced that require your testimony to assist.
Stay calm and answer.
It’s no secret that attorneys will often go to whatever lengths are legal and ethical to win the case and improve their clients’ position. That doesn’t mean that the lawyer is a nasty or mean person, but it does mean that they are obligated to represent their client to the best of their ability. Taking advantage of an opposing client who is too eager to respond to a question or is otherwise apt to get flustered on the witness stand is part of this process.
When your attorney asks you questions, it is essential always to answer the specific question that your opposing counsel asks you. When you answer a question that wasn’t asked with your attorney, they can always double back and put you back on course with the line of questioning.
An opposing attorney will not be so kind. Answering questions that aren’t asked of you likely means providing information that does not necessarily need to be a part of the record.
Even if the other attorney seems nice as pie, you should assume that your questions are intended to hurt your position and help their clients. Again- this isn’t the trait of a nasty, sneaky lawyer. It’s just part of an adversarial hearing. Listen closely to the question being asked of you and answer that question honestly.
Providing excessive information, especially to the opposing attorney, can cause the lawyer to shift gears and ask a line of questions that could lead to a flood of negative news coming out on any number of subjects.
Finally, staying calm while being questioned means not getting agitated or angry by a question from the other attorney. Family law cases are intensely personal, and the stakes are very high as a result; if you exhibit the traits of a person that is easy to upset, you can expect that the opposing attorney will seize on the opportunity to do so.
We discussed the importance of credibility when answering questions about how the judge views you. Part of your job in a contested family law hearing is to prove that you can act in the best interest of your child under all circumstances. There is no better time to show that you can do so than when you are under pressure on the witness stand. Don’t take their questions personally, be respectful, and answer them as asked.
If a question “crosses the line,” your attorney will address that with the judge on your behalf.
Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today for a free Family Law consultation.
We thank you for the opportunity to discuss the critical issue of in-court testimony. If you have any questions on this or any other area in family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. A free-of-charge consultation is available where your questions can be answered.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- In Court Testimony: How what you say can make a difference in how the judge views your case
- Tips on giving in-court testimony in your divorce or child custody case
- Tips on giving in-court testimony in your Divorce or child custody case, Part Three
- Tips on giving in-court testimony in your Divorce or child custody case, Part Two
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