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Tips on giving in-court testimony in your divorce or child custody case

When a new client signs up with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, and we begin to discuss their case, the talk inevitably ends up on what information they have that will influence a judge. I think most people have going into their divorce or child custody case because everything done in their case is just leading up to the judge banging a gavel and deciding whatever issues the case revolves around.

In some instances, this is true. You may have a situation that you’re facing right now that will likely require a judge's intervention in a courtroom.

As I tell clients frequently (and would tell you the same thing), testifying in front of a judge is not something that comes naturally to most people and is not a pleasant experience. It doesn’t have to be the worst time of your life, but it certainly won’t be something you look back upon fondly.

Even with that said, there are tips and tricks that you can utilize if faced with having to answer questions from a lawyer in court. While different people have differing abilities to testify well, the bottom line is that you want to be honest, respectful, and comfortable while on the witness stand. Let’s get into some advice that I believe are important to consider before even stepping foot into a courtroom.

The most important part of testifying: Honesty

If you have never stepped into a courtroom before then your opportunity to act as a witness in your own family law case will inevitably be a nerve-wracking experience. There are no two ways about it, and there are no magic words that I or any other attorney can tell you that will put you 100% at ease before testifying. I can do today to put your testimony into context and help prepare you for what to expect.

Above all else, be ready to testify means being ready, to be honest in your responses. This does not mean only embellishing the truth a little bit or just slightly exaggerating some bit of information. This means being completely truthful when answering questions, even if this means hurting your case potentially. While we’re on this subject, I will say that what you think your “case” comprises and what your case actually is maybe two different things.

It may make sense for you to talk to your lawyer before the hearing about what he or she thinks you all need to accomplish in your hearing or trial and how you all will accomplish those goals.

On a practical level, lying under oath is not advisable because it destroys your credibility in front of the judge. So much in family law comprises little, teeny-tiny truths that are a big deal to a judge when it comes to splitting up assets or determining whether you or your spouse will have primary custody of your child. If it comes through that you are lying under oath, the judge will see you as a person who cannot follow instructions or be forthright in your actions.

Your credibility (your ability to convince the judge that what you are saying is accurate and based on fact) goes down the drain. What’s more, lying under oath is a crime called perjury. Perjury carries with it penalties that include jail time. That’s not to say that you should enter court worried about losing your child and your freedom. I am telling you this information to make sure you know the importance of being truthful in your testimony.

If you are worried about divulging potentially damaging information to the judge in a hearing or trial, it is best to discuss this with your attorney well before you go to court. This way, you and your attorney will be able to game-plan for that information to be revealed and how to proceed from that point forward.

As an attorney, the most helpless feeling in the world is to be blindsided by your witnesses’ testimony at the hearing or trial. If I had time to prepare for that testimony to be given, I might have been able to mitigate the damage to your case with some planning. However, when I hear that information for the first time while you are on the stand, my ability to limit its effect on the judge is severely worsened.

What is your attorney’s job during the time that you are testifying?

Your job as a witness is to answer the specific question presented to you, whether by your attorney or the other party’s attorney. This means listening to the question and not giving excess detail that the question does not call for. Do not guess at the meaning of the question asked of you.

Do not assume that a word means something if you do not know. There is no shame in asking your attorney or the other attorney to re-phrase or re-ask their question. The judge is not going to laugh at you, and neither will anyone else. Once you understand the question and are ready to answer the question, you can go ahead.

Part Two in our series of blog posts on testifying in court will be posted tomorrow.

A subject as important as testifying in your family law hearing or trial requires more time than I can provide today. With that said, please be on the lookout for the second blog post on this subject set to be posted tomorrow.

As always, if you have any questions in the field of family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today for a free of charge consultation. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week to discuss your situation with you and answer questions in a comfortable environment.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our child custody lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.

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