While the “Law and Order” or Denny Krane cross-examination is the stuff television audiences crave, judges do not revel in drama. As the one in the hot seat, certain courtroom decorum is appropriate and can make or break your case. The following is a list of what you should do when you find yourself in the middle of a family case, either as a party or simply a witness (not an expert witness):
1. Tell the truth. You are under oath and there is threat of perjury should you “bend” the truth. Hopefully the truth shall set you free. The converse is true. Don’t box yourself in by lies.
2. If you don’t know the answer to the question, don’t commit. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t know. This applies to dates, number of occurrences and names. This is not a memory contest.
3. Look at your lawyer during the questions. Keep good eye contact to gauge whether you are saying too much or not enough.
4. LISTEN. Please only answer the question asked. If you go off on a narrative about what you were wearing when your husband was threatening you, or how your neighbor always told your boyfriend was a scoundrel, that will not help the fact finder. In fact, it might irritate the judge that you are being nonresponsive. LISTEN.
5. Wear clothes that you would wear to church. If you don’t go to church, pretend that you are a librarian at a conservative college. Cover up the essentials and look formal enough to show respect for yourself and the Court.
6. During your testimony, if the lawyers object, stop talking. Wait for the judge to make a ruling. If you are uncertain whether you can answer or not, ask the judge simply,”may I answer?”
7. Don’t audibly sigh, chew bubble gum, laugh or talk out of turn. Comments under your breath or eye rolling is not appropriate for the Court room.
8. Do understand that this is an emotional time and that lawyers know that it is difficult to be on the stand. If you need breaks, tell your lawyer before hand a signal to show that you are tired or need to use the restroom. Your comfort is key. Make sure you eat a good meal prior to testifying, bring a bottle of water or a snack.
9. Remember that ridiculous or badgering questions are for the lawyer to object to- not the witness.
10. Keep your emotions appropriate. It is acceptable to cry, but yelling at the opposing counsel, being snarky with the judge, or acting irrationally, will not lead to a successful result in Court.