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Preparing To Give Sworn Testimony

Oh, thereís one more thing. Youíll have to testify at the hearing. Donít be overly worried. With preparation, youíll get through this too. Actually, you have already covered all the facts in the papers already filed with the court.

The court hearing will normally take no more than thirty to sixty minutes, including the time the attorneys use to argue to the court in attempts to persuade the judge. Unfortunately, you may have to wait longer for your case to be called than you will get to present it. The court calendar on which your matter is placed usually limits the time available. If your matter is complex, you may be on a calendar where you are allowed the entire day. Live testimony is discouraged for routine matters to conserve the courtís time, so your attorney may have to give written notice in advance of the intent to offer oral testimony. You must be prepared to testify, whether you end up being called or not.

Schedule an appointment with your attorney well in advance of the hearing to prepare for your testimony. You must review every document in the file and every document that may be used at the hearing. Thus, you may have to schedule a follow-up session after your spouse files and serves papers opposing your request.

Your attorney will go over the basic rules you are to keep in mind when testifying. Youíll be alerted to problem areas to watch out for considering the issues, the style of the opposing attorney and perhaps the judge to whom the case has been assigned. Finally, be sure you know how to find the courthouse and parking if you are going to meet your attorney there.

Here are a few important pointers about testifying:

1. Listen to the question. Donít get so caught up in composing a world-class answer to the question you think is being asked that youíll be thrown for a loop when the question takes an unexpected direction.

2. Pause before you say anything. This gives your attorney time to object if itís an improper question. This gives you the time to think about the question. If you really are thinking about the question, it adds more to your credibility than if you appear to be shooting from the hip with your responses.

3. If you donít understand the question, say so. Youíre under oath, and if youíre guessing at the question, your answer must be a guess.

4. Answer only with what you know. Donít embellish your answer with points you think are probably true or that youíre supposed to know. Donít give an approximation without identifying it as such. Qualify your answer if not absolutely sure: "To the best of my recollection...Ē

5. Answer only the question asked and shut your mouth. If your attorney wants to know more, he or she will ask for it. Remember this is a piecemeal process of putting one fact on top of another to tell the story.

6. You are testifying so that the judge will hear the evidence. Speak clearly into the microphone.

7. The other attorney is entitled to cross-examine you. He or she can use leading questions that suggest the answer. Answer all questions following the same rules. If you get mad and lose your temper on the witness stand, youíll seriously harm your case.

8. Donít be afraid to admit something. Youíve already told your attorney. Itís warts and all in the courtroom. Your willingness to admit to a shortcoming the other side tries to make into a big deal will add to your credibility and defuse their attack.

Anxiety about testifying in court is perfectly natural. No one calls and volunteers to be a witness. Follow the rules, and you wonít give the other side the opportunity to embarrass you. You will forget about everything else and concentrate on one question at a time once your testimony starts. Leave the argument for your attorney. Attend hearings on similar issues at the same court a week before if you really want a preview and familiarity with the surroundings and rituals.