You’re likely to be scared or nervous when you go to court for a contested hearing. You may be there for a temporary orders hearing, or for the final hearing that is the culmination of all your preparation after months. Either way, it’s normal to be nervous, even though you’ve had a chance to prepare with your lawyer. The Court doesn’t expect you to put on a show, and your judge or magistrate only expects that you be honest with your testimony and respectful of the hearing process.
If your lawyer gives you questions or exhibits to review, take a look at them several times. You don’t need to memorize anything, but you should be able to look at an exhibit and tell the Court what it is.
Be respectful of the Court. That includes no gum, no shifting around, no talking except when asked a question, and no wild facial expressions. The judge can see what you’re doing, and that has an impact on your credibility.
When other parties or witnesses testify, listen carefully to what they say, and take notes if you like. You may have information about their testimony that will be helpful to your lawyer. But remember that your lawyer is listening too, so keep track of your questions or concerns and share them in writing rather than whispering during the testimony itself.
When it’s your turn to testify, you’ll need to listen carefully again. You can always ask for a question to be repeated or rephrased but do your best to answer the question as it is asked. It’s easy to get carried away with your story. However, when your lawyer is asking questions, the goal is to provide the specific information when it is asked for. When opposing counsel asks you questions, it can be easy to get carried away, but if you do, some of your words may be used against you. When in doubt, provide brief answers to the questions as they are asked. Your lawyer can ask you as many follow-up questions as necessary, and you won’t give opposing counsel the opportunity to lead you away from what you know, into rabbit holes, or getting you upset.
No one expects a perfect performance because testimony isn’t a performance. It’s an opportunity to share facts with the court. At hearing, all the hard work you and your lawyer have put into the case comes to the Court. Do your best, and your lawyer will be able to fight for you and your case.