When a family law case goes to Court—for a motion hearing, temporary order hearing or final orders hearing, Client have many questions and are often anxious about the experience. It is imperative that the Client has at least spoken at length with the attorney—if not able to meet in person–to prepare for their appearance in Court. This article briefly touches upon a few of the many considerations when preparing for and delivering courtroom testimony—and how a Court’s interpretation of the issue affects its decisions. It is not meant as an instructive treatise by any means, but as an introduction to an issue not regularly encountered by non-attorneys. The information contained, here, does not constitute a legal opinion nor is it legal advice.
Is the Message Lost in Delivery? The most important factor for a Client to understand when preparing to testify in Court is that the time for testimony is limited. Judges have actual stop-watch clocks they keep on the bench and will hold attorneys and Clients to the time limits they announce. When the attorney is out of time, they must stop talking and sit down. This means that anything not previously stated in testimony will never be heard—no matter how important. To control for this problem, the attorney must get the Client to focus only on the issues the Court wants and needs to hear in order to make a decision. A significant problem Clients have when testifying in Court is that their message is “lost in delivery”. This means the way it was said—what was included/what was not included/and how it was said—came out wrong. Often the Client provides too much background information during testimony and includes too many ancillary issues. Eventually it becomes hard to even decipher what the Client meant to say. Clients are, of course, anxious about testifying and tend to dwell on issues they think are important for the Court to know. I tell Clients that when they are testifying, they will be under stress and the one thing I know about humans is that if you put them under stress, their true nature will emerge.
Often a Client believes that the emotional issues are important. A Client wants the Court to know that their pain is due to their spouse being so manipulative or a lying or cheating spouse for which the Client seeks “justice”. These are, indeed, important issues for the Client and have likely rocked the foundation of their lives. However, the emotional issues are rarely what the Court needs to make a decision during a hearing. The Court’s focus is pretty narrow on most issues and includes specific information the Court needs such as: incomes of the parties; and who will pay which bills; and who will drive which car; and how will the house be divided; and what is the parenting time plan being proposed. If that information is not communicated clearly to the Court during a Client’s testimony, the Court will misunderstand the information or lose interest (the judge may even turn away and start working on their computer) or lose focus—and the Client will lose what they are trying to gain on that issue.
Working together, the divorce attorney and Client must determine the important issues to be addressed for each appearance before the Court. Preparation regarding the specific issues and how to present those issues within the limited time given, is the best use of a Client’s time and money and provides a better chance for success.