When you are being questioned in a deposition during your family law case it can feel like the weight of the world is in your shoulders. If you lose track of what you are doing and why you are doing it, you may get the wrong impression that your entire case depends on your performance in this deposition. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In actuality, a deposition is but one of many parts that encompass a divorce or child custody case. The last thing you want to do is put an undue amount of pressure on yourself to say or act a certain way in your deposition. This will make you feel uncomfortable and will not lead to you doing anything but acting out of character in your deposition. The last thing that you want is to be made to look less than honest or to have your credibility hurt.
If you have not already done so, I recommend that you go back and read through yesterday’s blog post from our office. We provided you with information about how to approach your family law deposition with the goal of getting in and getting out without having damaged your case. Even if you have been deposed before in other settings, and even if you have testified in a family law hearing, I believe that the information that we have been providing you with is invaluable to your overall success.
With that said, let’s further explore this topic by sharing some tips and tricks on how to prepare yourself for a deposition.
The end goal of your family law case is to succeed in a trial- if necessary
When I state that a trial may or may not be necessary, I do so with a fair amount of confidence that your family law case will not go all the way to a trial. The vast majority of family law cases settle before the point is reached, often in mediation. There are many advantages to settling your case before going to trial, perhaps foremost among being that you and your spouse will be able to work with one another to craft solutions to your family’s problems directly. While you two may not see eye to eye on much, you both know the problems and opportunities within your family better than anyone. You certainly know your family better than a judge will, even after the judge learns about you all and your family through a day or two of trial.
However, your divorce or child custody case may be the exception that proves the rule when it comes to needing to go to a trial. If your case does proceed down this path, the only mindset that you should have at that point is to accomplish as many of your goals within the trial setting as is possible. With that said, you do not want to give away any ground in a deposition that can cost you some of those goals in the trial itself.
In a deposition, your attorney may choose to not bombard your wife with accusations that you have made about her infidelity or other bad acts. This is because it may make more sense to wait until your trial to level those accusations on her in front of a judge in open court. Certainly, if you and your attorney are in the information gathering stage of your case and are not prepared to question your spouse in detail about those actions it is not a wise idea to do so and close credibility or any momentum that this issue could provide you within a trial.
Do not give your spouse any ammunition to be used against you in a trial
Likewise, if you are being asked questions in a deposition your job is to provide the least amount of information possible to your spouse and their attorney. The reason for this is that your spouse is using the deposition (in the same way that you are) to learn as much as possible about your case and the possible evidence to be used in a trial. As such, you do not want to expose yourself too much in a deposition. Some degree of information will be shared in a deposition, without exception. However, you are the only person who has any control over the words that come out of your mouth.
Do not feel compelled to overly wordy answers to the questions of the attorney for your spouse. Do not lull yourself into a false sense of security because the attorney is using a soft voice or is smiling in your general direction while asking you questions. Likewise, do not be mistaken by an overly aggressive or demanding demeanor that you have to give certain answers or risk facing consequences of some sort.
The way that you present yourself should not be animated, angry, aggressive, passive or anything extreme. You should not come off as flippant or sarcastic. Your demeanor should be professional, unemotional and to the point. Give direct answers to the questions that you understand and have a response to. Saying that you don't know or can't recall the answer to a question is perfectly fine. It is much better to state this than to give an answer that you are not sure of.
Be honest and be no more than that
Your only duty in a deposition is to give honest answers. If your honest answer is either yes or no, that is perfectly fine. You do not need to feel that unless you are “fully” honest you are being deceitful in some way. That is not the case. If you are not being honest then you should worry about the consequences if and when your case makes it all the way to a trial. However, if you are honest with your responses you should not worry if your answers are sufficient.
Prepare for your deposition well in advance
As soon as you find out that you will have to be deposed in your family law case you should start to prepare. This does not mean that you need to request school records or start reading books about the law. However, what it does mean is that if you know that you have a lot to learn about your child or that you have a tendency to forget information when you are nervous, you should use your time before your deposition to prepare as best as you can.
For instance, if you are going to be asked questions about your child’s school, their doctor or their extracurricular activities it would make sense for you to know the names of your child’s teachers, coaches, and close friends. It will not work out in your favor if you walk into a deposition with incomplete or incorrect answers to questions that should be fairly simple. Especially if you are a father you should be aware that attorneys will ask questions not like this because they are interested in learning more about your children.
Rather, these questions are an attempt to make you look silly or to intimidate you by exposing a lack of knowledge of your kids. You may be a very nurturing father, but if you don’t know the name of your child’s soccer coach that could cause you to feel like you are not “worthy” of being the primary conservator. If you were to back off on your position that you should be named as such, your spouse’s attorney will have done their job.
What should be considered essential information in your family law case?
As far as answering questions in your deposition, there is certain information that I can almost universally tell you should be considered to be “must know.” For instance, you should know all of your child’s teacher’s names or the people who care for her at daycare. If your child is in school you should learn how they are doing in each class and be prepared to give out the specific grade if called upon.
Next, if your child has recently gone to the doctor for any reason you should know the name of the doctor, the clinic where he works and the reason that treatment was sought with that physician. You may not have been able to take her to the doctor but you should know where she is going and the reason for that treatment.
One thing that you need to be able to do is to make arguments for your positions. This may not be true in a deposition but certainly will be in a trial. For instance, if you and your spouse hold differing views about where your child should go to school, you need to know the differences between the school district that you are proposing and the one where your spouse is proposing. What are the differences in class size? How far from each of your homes would the child's school be? If you can provide concise and clear answers on this subject it could go a long way towards you accomplishing your goals.
What are your plans for your child now and in the future? Namely, if you are award primary conservatorship rights over your child you need to be able to explain how you are going to make that plan work logistically with your employment. I have had many parents who have had the lofty goal of being named as the primary conservator of their child, only to find out that this goal is not compatible with their work schedule when push comes to shove.
How will you manage the pickup and drop off of your child from school or extracurricular activities? Do you have childcare/extended family available for those times when you have to work late or will be out of town completely? A deposition is a good opportunity for you to seriously evaluate how realistic a goal it is for you to ask for either 50/50 custody or primary conservatorship. This is not only a situation that could end up being a great burden for you as far as time but it can also be a situation that puts your child at a disadvantage.
Finally, I would like to tell you that you should not go into a deposition with the intent to make your spouse look bad. Many spouses that I have worked with will take any opportunity that they can to criticize, complain about or attack their spouse. Sometimes this is with good reason, many times it is just a part of being frustrated with a failing marriage or a negative situation related to their child. Even with these sort of circumstances in mind, it is not a good idea to attack your spouse in a deposition.
If you are alleging that your spouse did (or did not) do something that harmed your child, you need to be specific about those allegations. Vague statements about events in the distant past typically do not hold much water with judges. You need to be clear about what happened, the role that your spouse played in that event and how it impacted your child.
Do you have questions about family law issues in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
There is no better family law office in Southeast Texas than the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our attorneys possess a level of competence, experience, and professionalism that is unmatched in our area. We invite you to explore our website to learn more about family law and our office.
If you have any questions about the material that we presented in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with a licensed family law attorney. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances. Thank you for joining us today on our blog.