When you’re preparing to be a witness in a deposition or in court, there are several things you need to keep in mind. First, know that your testimony can help you or hurt you in your divorce. It’s important to present yourself and your understanding effectively. If it’s a deposition, this may be your first chance to impress your spouse’s attorney with what a good witness you’re going to be to help you in negotiations. Here are some suggestions for being a good witness:
Before the questioning starts:
- Ask your attorney what questions you should expect.
- Read through your answers to any interrogatories and your responses to any requests for production of documents. Your spouse’s attorney would love to catch you contradicting your own earlier statement.
- Get there a little ahead of time.
- Dress as if you were going to court (remember, you want to look like a great witness). That means you wear subdued clothing, makeup, and hairstyle.
- Be respectful of everyone in the deposition or courtroom, even your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer.
When the questioning starts:
- Tell the truth. You won’t be able to change your story later (without losing a lot of credibility).
- Make sure you understand the question before you begin answering. Then wait a second or two before you answer. The wait accomplishes two things: first, it allows your attorney time to object if he or she needs to; second, it allows you time to collect your thoughts and make sure you understand the question.
- If your attorney objects to anything — or for that matter says anything — stop and wait. Your attorney will let you know when it’s time to continue.
- Make sure you answer the question completely. THEN STOP. This is not about telling your story. Your attorney will provide you that opportunity if it’s important to your case. What you need to do is to answer the question you’re asked and only the question you’re asked. If the answer is “yes” or “no,” that’s all you need to say.
- Remember you’re under oath. You’re effectively swearing to everything you say. If you’re not sure of something, or if you don’t know something from your own personal knowledge, don’t say it’s true.
When the questioning is over:
- If it’s a deposition, ask to review the transcript. Court reporters are surprisingly accurate, but everybody makes mistakes from time to time. Make sure the transcript is accurate.
- If you discover later that something you said in your deposition was wrong, tell your attorney. If you’re working to stay in control, you may want to copy the relevant passages of the deposition for your attorney, circle the statement(s) you now know to be untrue, and state the actual facts. This will allow your attorney to understand the discrepancy quickly and completely.