How to Really Prepare to Testify in Court and Be Fearless During Every Cross Examination
Written by: Megan Dell
Having to testify in court intimidates everyone! But these tips can help you feel confident about your testimony, even on cross-examination.
The Purpose of Witness Testimony
In a Family Court case, witness testimony is offered to provide evidence about the facts from any witness with knowledge. Witnesses, including each party to the case, may be called to testify in court regarding the claims to be decided by the judge.
Witnesses often offer information about important elements of a case, such as whether a spouse committed adultery or whether a parent is regularly involved in their child’s life. Witness testimony can also help corroborate or refute other evidence presented during the trial. Ultimately, the role of witness testimony is to assist the court in determining whether there is evidence sufficient to support findings sought by the parties.
Each Side Calls Witnesses to Testify in Court: Know Your Role
Family Court cases can involve divorce grounds, division of assets and debts, claims for alimony and/or spousal support, child custody and visitation issues, child support, and attorney’s fees.
For each claim before the Family Court, South Carolina law determines which facts are relevant. Then, during trial, each party has to provide evidence of the facts that entitle them to relief. Most of the time, each party will disclose the identities of the witnesses they believe are important, as well as the witness’s likely testimony, during discovery.
After you learn you will have to testify in court, it is important to understand what each party hopes to prove by having you testify. Typically, if you ask, the lawyers representing the parties will be straightforward about their goals for your testimony.
How Evidence is Presented in Court
During a Family Court trial, evidence is presented through witness testimony. Every document or photograph considered by the judge must be authenticated by a witness, and the witness must explain why the material is relevant to the case and should be used as evidence. This process helps produce an accurate result from the trial.
Before you take the witness stand, you should understand the importance of your verbal testimony, as well as your ability to help (or hinder) materials being admitted into evidence.
Before You Testify In Court: Review Prior Statements
In South Carolina Family Court, it is common for witnesses to prepare written statements, or affidavits, at the beginning of a case. However, witnesses often forget having signed those statements. Before you testify in court, review any written statements you previously provided. Additionally, your attorney may advise you to review other documents, like the pleadings or your discovery responses, before you testify.
What is the Definition of Cross Examination?
Cross-examination is an opportunity for the opposing attorney to ask you questions while you are under oath. Effective cross-examination is both an art and a science.
One technique trial lawyers use during cross-examination is to ask leading questions. A leading question is one that prompts or encourages the desired answer. Leading questions frequently call for an answer of either “Yes” or “No.”
The Most Important Rule When Being Cross Examined
If the opposing attorney is a good trial lawyer, then they will try to entice you to discuss the case in detail. But cross-examination is not the time to share your perspective or persuade a Family Court judge that you are right! The best method for answering questions during cross-examination is to focus only on the question asked and use as few words as possible to answer. Cross-examination is not the time to volunteer information!
Practice Makes Perfect
Based on the conversations you will have had with the attorney for each party, you should be able to predict the topics you will be asked about during court testimony.
It can be helpful to make an outline of the topics or facts you have knowledge about. This can help you anticipate the questions you might be asked so you can prepare thoughtful and accurate responses. This exercise may also help you remember specific details and remember events more clearly.
Then, before you testify in court, you should practice what your testimony will be. Sometimes the lawyer who intends to call you to testify will review your expected testimony with you. Otherwise, you can have a friend or family member go over it with you. Practicing your testimony beforehand will give you confidence when testifying in front of a judge.
Get Advice Before You Testify in Court!
Even if you are only a fact witness in a family law case, you should talk to an experienced lawyer about who to prepare to testify in family court so you can know what to expect. A skilled trial lawyer will know how to prepare a client to testify, and you will feel more confident in court.