Testifying in a Connecticut Divorce

This Week’s Blog by Christopher J. DeMattie.

Do I have to testify during my Connecticut Divorce?

A divorce action is a civil lawsuit, so any time evidence is required to resolve a disputed issued testimony of witness is likely required.  Typically, the witnesses in a divorce action are you and your spouse, however, it is common for other fact or expert witnesses to also testify.  An example of a disputed issue which could require your testimony is what school your child should attend.  You and your spouse will likely be required to provide testimony as to why you believe a certain school is a better fit for your child and why it is in your child’s best interest to attend that school.

What is the format of testifying during my Connecticut divorce?

The two main categories of testimony are direct examination and cross examination.

Direct examination is the questioning of a witness by the party that called the witness to testify.  An example of direct examination is when your attorney calls you as a witness to testify.  Proper direct examination questions are posed in an open-ended manner.  Typically, direct examination questions begin with: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Once your attorney concludes your direct examination, your spouse’s attorney has the option to cross-exam you.  Unlike direct examination, where the questions are open-ended, proper cross examination questions are leading.  A question is considered leading if the answer is suggested in the question.  If done properly, during cross examination the attorney is essentially testifying, and the witnesses is merely confirming or denying the question posed by the attorney.

An example of a direct examination question versus a cross examination questions is as follows:

Direct – Where did you and your spouse marry?

Cross – Isn’t it true that you and your spouse were married in Greenwich, Connecticut?

Once your spouse’s attorney concludes his or her cross examination of you, your attorney will have the option to redirect you.  Redirect is the opportunity to correct or expand on the topics covered during cross examination.  Since proper cross examination often requires are simple yes or no answer, you may want the opportunity to offer more expansive testimony on the topic.  For example, on cross examination you may be asked: Isn’t it true that you were late in paying alimony, yes or no?  If the answer is “Yes”, on redirect examination your attorney may ask you: Why were you late paying alimony? You will then explain the reason why you were late paying alimony.

Thereafter, the opposing attorney will have the option to recross examine you, but he or she can only ask questions within the scope of the redirect examination.  For example, if the redirect examination is limited to questions pertaining to alimony, you typically cannot be asked questions about custody on redirect examination.  This format of redirect and recross examination will continue back and forth until there are no further questions.

What are my basic responsibilities while testifying?

Your first and most important responsibility is to tell the truth.  You will be given an oath by the Clerk to tell the truth, and failure to tell the truth could result in perjury charges or the Judge not finding you to be credible.  In a divorce case, credibility is one of the most important aspects since often a dispute comes down to a “he said, she said” situation.

Second, you need to only answer the question that is asked.  Otherwise, you answer could be stricken as non-responsive, which will only prolong the process.  You may find yourself not wanting to answer the question posed to you by opposing counsel, but you have an obligation to answer the question, unless an objection to the question is sustained.  You also need to remember that your attorney will be able to ask you follow up questions on redirect examination to correct or expand on the question.

Third, if an objection is raised, do not answer the question until you receive instructions from the Judge.  If the Judge sustains the objection you do not have to answer the question.  If the Judge overrules the objection you must answer the question.

Finally, you do not want to fight with opposing counsel.  Opposing counsel may purposefully ask incendiary questions to get you to lose your composure in front of the Judge.  You must do you best to try and stay in control and have faith in your attorney to “fix” any issues on redirect examination.

Broder & Orland LLC with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law and divorce. In addition to being highly experienced lawyers with proven results, our hallmark is the attention we give to each of our clients. Additionally, whether a case requires aggressive litigation or a mediated solution, we always exhibit an abiding compassion for the people we represent and their families, recognizing that our mission is to assist them through a very difficult, life changing event.