Sunday, January 19, 2020
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  Court Appearance and Being a Witness  



In an uncontested divorce case, the Plaintiff needs to appear in Court to testify.  The Defendant is not required to, but can appear if they desire. We suggest that business attire be worn to court.


In Georgia, parties to a divorce may ask for a trial by jury on all issues except child custody and attorney fees.  A jury trial is very expensive and takes substantially longer.

Dress neatly and nicely for all court appearances, especially those in which you will be testifying.  It is unfortunate that people judge people by the clothes they wear, but they do.  If you want the judge to think you are one of the "good guys", then dress like a good guy, not some zombie biker.  Wear little or no make-up or jewelry and often times wear what you would wear to church or job interview.

Do not chew gum or smoke. Walk and stand erect.  Do not slouch or slur your words.  Be serious and forceful.  Do not cover your mouth or avert your eyes. Look at the judge or jury when you talk.  Remember, you are trying to convince them so talk to them not to your attorney (because your attorney already believes you), and not to the other attorney (because he will never believe you).  Do not look as if you are seeking approval or help from your attorney or any other person in court. Remember judges and juries look at body language as much as what is said in testimony.

Be polite; it makes a good impression on the court.  Answer "yes sir" or "ma'am" and address the judge as "your honor".  Do not be a smart aleck, nervous, scared, argumentative or angry.  If the other side baits you into becoming angry, remember, lose your temper and you may lose your case.

Tell the truth.  It is going to come out eventually anyway and it is better coming from you than the other side.  If the other side catches you in a "lie", you may lose your case.  However, make sure you told the truth to your attorney before you tell it in court. Keep in mind that attorney cannot allow clientís to testify to an untruth if they know it is perjury.

Listen carefully to all questions whether posed by your attorney or the other side.  Pause, ask for water or drink some and then after you are sure you understand the question take your time and answer that question.  You cannot give a truthful and accurate answer if you do not understand the question.  If you ask, the attorney will repeat the question.  Do not tell the court "I think" or what it "must have been".  The court normally does not care what you think or what could have happened.  The court wants to know what actually happened.  However, if you make an estimate of time or cost, make sure the court knows it is an estimate.  If you make a mistake during your testimony, correct it as soon as possible.  Politely say something such as, "May I correct something I said earlier".

When the other side asks you a question to which you do not know the answer, say, "I do not know".  Donít guess!  Witnesses are often trapped by being led into areas about which their knowledge is inadequate.  They try to save face and end up making a statement that is incorrect.  This gives the other side what it needs to make it seem like you are lying, whereas by saying "I do not know" you can usually avoid the problem.

In cross-examinations most questions can be answered by "yes" or "no", "I do not know", or a simple sentence.  Do not ever use Watergate words.  Everybody in America believed the witnesses at the Watergate hearing were lying.  So when you say "To the best of my recollection" people think you are getting ready to lie to them.

Do not volunteer information.  Do not let the other attorney pull you into testifying more than you need to by standing there looking at you waiting for you to add material.  Upon finishing your answer, shut up.  Resist the temptation to speak just because you have the floor.  Your attorney will ask questions if necessary to point out a fact.

The other side may ask you if you have discussed the case with your attorney or other witnesses.  If they ask you, then tell them the truth -- you have.  They are not asking if you have fabricated the story, but they are asking you if you have talked about it.  It would be rare to go to court without having discussed the case with your attorney and your witnesses.  If they ask you if your attorney has told you what to say, tell them your attorney told you to tell the truth -- because that is the truth.

Do not let the other attorney confuse you by asking  "Are you willing to swear to what you are saying".  You already did when you took the oath as a witness. Remember; if you are polite and confident under pressure you will be believable.

We are all afraid of things we do not understand.  To help yourself, you will want to review any documents you will refer to during your testimony.  Also review any statement you made and talk to friends, family or co-workers to recall details you have forgotten.  A visit to court before your case may make you more comfortable about your court appearance.  After you watch a few cases, you will see that no one dies or is seriously injured when testifying.  You will feel better when it is your turn.

Always check with our office a couple of days before scheduled court appearances to make sure your case will be heard.  Often cases are continued by the court for one reason or another, and we do not want you to waste a trip if it is avoidable.


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