Tips for Testifying in Court
For many, a divorce hearing is the first time they step into a courtroom. Like anything in life, it is important to be prepared. It is normal to be nervous before testifying, but with these tips, you can ease your fears and testify like a pro.
- Dress for the occasion. Wear clothing that shows respect for the Judge. Clothing you would wear to church or synagogue is appropriate. Work out clothing, provocative clothing, or sloppy dress, is not. Try to avoid wearing jeans if you have other options.
- Review your testimony with your attorney. It is okay to practice what you are going to say. Practicing eases your nerves and allows you to think about your answers.
- Anticipate what the opposing lawyer will ask you. Try to predict cross-examination questions with your attorney. If you are worried about being asked about a topic or specific question, it is okay to discuss and formulate a response in advance with your attorney.
- Listen to the questions being asked. If you do not understand a question or do not hear the question, ask for clarification or for the question to be repeated.
- Only answer the question being asked. You do not have to volunteer information.
- Do not get rattled by opposing counsel. Do not argue or raise your voice. Oftentimes opposing counsel is trying to get you to react in an angry, aggressive, or controlling manner; you need to stay calm. It is okay to be emotional but not overly emotional. Remember to be respectful of the Judge and his/her Courtroom.
- Do not ramble when answering a question. This is where practicing helps. Give short concise answers, especially on cross-examination.
- Always tell the truth even if you think it will hurt you. If you lie or mislead the court and it is brought out on cross-examination your credibility will be damaged. It is better to tell the truth even if it is not flattering then to have opposing counsel discredit you.
- When testifying, try to avoid using absolute words such as always and never, as these words can discredit your testimony. Rarely is there an occasion where something always or never occurs.
- Avoid using phrases such as “I would not lie to you” or “Honestly”. All of your testimony should be honest.
- Tone is important. Do not be confrontational or hostile.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. While in the shower, looking in the mirror, driving in your car, practice your answers to the tough questions. With practice you will learn to say what is important in a succinct manner.
- Try not to look up at the sky when you are answering questions. If you would rather not look at the attorney asking you questions then pick a spot on the wall and look at that spot. If you can, occasional eye contact with the Judge is nice.
- If an attorney states an objection, stop speaking immediately. The Judge needs to rule on the objection. If the objection is sustained you cannot continue your answer. If the objection is overruled you can continue your answer. As long as you stop speaking the Judge can do his/her job. If you are unsure if the Judge’s ruling means you can answer or not, don’t worry because the Judge or questioning attorney will let you know if it is okay to continue with your answer.
- When you are a party in a court case you are in the courtroom for the entire proceeding, not just your testimony. It is important that you present well in the courtroom even when you are not testifying. The Judge is always looking around the courtroom and observing what you are doing.
Here are some tips for your behavior when others are speaking or testifying, especially your spouse:
- Do not shake your head vigorously in agreement or disagreement of the testimony. Do not sigh loudly, do not speak out, do not jump out of your seat, do not raise your arms in the air, or otherwise call attention to yourself.
- Do not talk to your attorney. Your attorney must pay attention to the testimony so he/she can object and determine what questions to ask on cross-examination. Your attorney cannot do his/her job and listen to you at the same time. Keep a pad and pen and write notes to your attorney. Write calmly and not furiously; you need to show that you are in control of yourself.
- Sit respectfully in your chair.
- Do not chew gum, eat, or drink beverages other than water in the courtroom.
Courtrooms are open to the public. You can go to the courthouse and observe a trial, and observe the Judge scheduled to hear your trial, before your court date.
Separation and Divorce: Keeping in Touch with Your Children
For many, the thought of not seeing their children on a daily basis can be difficult, but when you divorce, it is inevitable that your children will spend time with your former spouse whether you have shared custody, sole custody, or visitation. Veronique De Miguel posted an article on Mamiverse.com with some suggestions for keeping in touch with your children when they are with your former spouse. Here are some of Ms. De Miguel’s suggestions, as well as some of my own:
- Call your children on a regular basis (unless you are restricted by Agreement or Court Order). When you call remember these rules:
- Keep it brief and positive;
- Do not call at improper hours;
- Do not use your children as messengers;
- Do not be upset or discouraged if your child chooses not to speak with you on the telephone. Some children don’t enjoy talking on the telephone or don’t want to be interrupted when they are engaged in something else. However, it is still beneficial for them to hear that you called and wanted to speak to them. Sometimes it is your effort that is most important.
- Send letters, greeting cards or post cards. Even in today’s world of instant messaging, kids still love to receive mail. Again, keep your letter brief and positive. If you want, enclose a picture or a small inexpensive trinket in the mail, such as a stick of bubble gum, a pencil, or other small item that your child might enjoy.
- Use Skype, I-chat, or any other VOIP technology.
- Email or text if your child is old enough and has their own account. Remember, anything you write or send will likely be read by your former spouse. Also, make sure you don’t “over do it” by texting or emailing too often. You don't want to be perceived as pestering and you don’t want to turn your child away from you rather than bringing your child closer to you. When communicating with your child, be reassuring, positive and open.
- Have a special “coming home” tradition. Establish a tradition for you and your children to enjoy when they return to you after being with their other parent for several days or more. It can be as simple as going out for a special treat, reading a favorite book together, or playing a game, or it can be more complex such as a special dinner that includes a menu of favorite foods, or to which each family member invites a friend It is beneficial for your child to have something to look forward to, in addition to seeing you, especially if they might be sad they are leaving the other parent.
- Be Generous. Let your children know you love them, but do not expect anything in return. Children often feel that they are betraying the other parent if they show too much emotion or talk to long with the other parent. Also, children don’t always have the same desire to share as adults do, they need to keep some things “their own” and private. Let your children know you are there for them.
The membership of the Collaborative Divorce Association, Inc. elected Geraldine Hess to serve as one of the Board of Directors of the organization. Ms. Hess's practice consists of both traditional litigation/representation and collaborative law.
The Collaborative process is not right for every case or family situation and that is why Ms. Hess offers the Colloborative process as one of many ways of resolving family, custody and divorce matters.
Review the Collaborative Divorce Association, Inc. checklist http://www.collaborativedivorcemd.com/whocanbenefit.php, and consult with a Collaborative attorney to determine whether the Collaborative process is right for you.
Letting go of Emotions and Dealing with Negative Emotions During a Divorce
It is hard to let go of emotions during a divorce, especially if you did not choose to leave the marriage and do not want to be divorced. Cathy Meyer's article explains the importance of letting go of emotions so that you can protect your legal rights and build new dreams and a new future for yourself.
Ms. Myer's tips include:
1. Focus not on your spouse's prior bad acts, but on the here and now so that you can protect your interests in the here and now.
2. Be angry, be resentful, but don't stay that way. If you remain angry you may wind up focusing on how to punish your spouse in the divorce process rather than protecting your future.
3. You should be assertive and stand up for your rights during the divorce process, but do so kindly and gently, if possible. You benefit from a divorce and parting relationship that has less conflict and leaves you with more self-respect. Remember, this was someone that once was, and may still be, important to you.
You can find Ms. Meyer's article here: http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/thedivorceprocess/ss/divorceprocess.htm
A Child Focused Divorce
The Huffington Post posted an article written by Risa Garon, a licensed social worker and Executive director of the National Family Resiliency Center, discussing the needs of children during and after a divorce. Below is an excerpt of the 7 tips she suggests to promote a sane and child focused divorce. Follow this link to view the full article: www.huffingtonpost.com/risa-garon/7-tips-to-promote-a-sane-_b__1000570.html?vie
1. Understand what therapy is, what goals are and how therapists and clients work to achieve those goals. Choose a therapist you trust and support that therapist in working with your child.
2. Explain the transition in easy-to-understand ways for children; reassure them that they are loved and children can love each parent.
3. Model for your children how you want them to treat you. If you take the time to reach out and listen, you will have the answers
4. Take the money you would have spent on legal professionals in court and distribute to your children's educational accounts.
5. Each parent needs to hear the voice of their children before they make decisions about activities, access, school, religion, etc.
6. Helping parents through transitions is a life-long process. Conflict, violence and hostility don't support children; these behaviors destroy them. Every parent has a choice to take the "high road" and provide for their children the very factors that predict healthy divorce adjustment -- the number one factor being that parents don't put their children in the middle of their conflict.
7. Those of us who are parents know that it takes a village to raise children; it also takes a village to support parents through a healthy transition, one that includes letting go of the hatred, vengeance and retaliation.
Social Security Benefits May be Important Financial Planning Tool in Divorce:
Americans receive social security benefits based on their own quarters of work and earnings or their spouses. If you divorce after ten years or more of marriage either spouse can claim benefits based on the earnings of the other. In order for you to qualify, your former spouse must be at least 62 years of age. If your former spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years. Spousal benefits are usually ½ of the employee’s benefits. If you receive benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings record, their benefits are not reduced. If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s earnings record unless your later marriage ends, either by death, divorce or annulment.
Now you can get your Social Security Statement online. The Statement provides:
- Estimates of the retirement and disability benefits you may receive;
- Estimates of benefits your family may get when you receive Social Security or die;
- A list of your lifetime earnings according to Social Security’s records;
- The estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid;
- Information about qualifying and signing up for Medicare;
- Things to consider for those age 55 and older who are thinking of retiring;
- General information about Social Security for everyone;
- The opportunity to apply online for retirement and disability benefits; and
- A printable version of your Social Security Statement.
In addition to helping with financial planning, the online statement also provides a convenient way to determine whether your earnings are accurately posted to your Social Security records. This feature is important because Social Security benefits are based on average earnings over a person’s lifetime. If the earnings information is not accurate, you may not receive all the benefits to which you are entitled.
If you are going through a divorce, it is important to have all of the financial facts. Consider obtaining your social security statement, as well as requesting that your spouse provide his/her social security statement.
Getting Divorced? Suggestions Regarding Your Personal Privacy Especially When Working with Your Divorce Attorney.
Ken D'Angelo of Target Investigations http://www.target-investigations.com/home.html gave these helpful hints during a Law Day program sponsored by the Montgomery County Maryland Bar Association on May 18, 2012.
- Create a new Email Address with a unique password for your legal correspondence.
- Consider purchasing a pre-paid cellphone to use for your legal communications.
- Do not use cordless or landline telephones at home.
- Always lock your cell phone, tablet and computer and change the passwords.
- Use password protected screen savers and turn off computers when not in use.
- Change passwords for Email accounts regularly and do not use actual words as passwords. Use long, complex passwords instead.
- Do not share your cellphone, tablet or computer with others, including your children.
- Consider using a work or friend’s computer for your legal communications.
- Turn off all location tracking apps on mobile devices. When in doubt turn it off.
- Be aware of the use of hidden and computer/IP cameras.
- Have your mail forwarded to a secure private mail facility or P.O. Box.
- Separate financial/utility accounts and password protect them.
- Always lock your vehicle and maintain control of all keys.
- Be aware of your surroundings, especially when leaving your home or office.
- Communicate with neighbors and report any suspicious vehicles to the police.
- Shred unwanted personal papers and place important documents in a secure location. Be careful what you put in your trash bins.
- Suspend use of any social networking, IM’ing, chat rooms and/or dating websites.
- Don’t discuss your legal case with casual friends or outsiders.
- Consider consulting with a personal security professional regarding any specific concerns.
- Behave. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want discussed in open court.
Same Sex Couples Can't Get Married in Maryland (yet), But They Can Get Divorced.
Even though Maryland does not recognize same sex marriage, the Court of Appeals ruled that a valid out of state same sex marriage should be treated by the Maryland Courts as worthy of divorce. Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan married in California in 2008, during a time when same sex marriage was legal in that state. The couple then moved to Maryland and two years later they agreed to mutually separate. Port filed for divorce in Prince George’s County, and Cowan did not contest the Complaint. The Judge hearing their case denied the requested relief on the basis that the marriage was “not valid” and “contrary to the public policy of Maryland.” Both parties appealed the Circuit Court decision.
“Must the Circuit Court grant a divorce to two people of the same sex who were validly married in another jurisdiction and who otherwise meet the criteria for divorce under Maryland law?” The Court of Appeals answered in a 7-0 decision, yes and remanded the case to the Circuit Court with direction to grant a final divorce.