Testifying at Your Divorce Trial

Ordinarily the petitioner, or plaintiff, goes first. If your spouse is the petitioner, her lawyer may call you as the first witness. This is a tactic some lawyers use to unnerve the other side and perhaps get the person to say things he will regret. Be prepared for this possibility. Don't panic. Take deep breaths. And remember, your lawyer will give you a chance to expand on the answers you give during cross-examination.

Direct Examination

When it's your turn, your lawyer calls you to the witness stand. You swear to tell the truth and then sit down in the witness chair. Your lawyer starts the questioning, which is called direct examination. The first few questions will be preliminary: your name, address, age, and employer. These questions help you get adjusted to testifying. After that your lawyer takes you through the outline you prepared together. You are on your own here, and your lawyer cannot tell you what to say. Don't look to her or anyone else in the courtroom for assistance in answering questions.

Be confident and self-assured and focus on the questions being asked. Do not make the mistake of feeling like you have to explain yourself or your choices. Answer only the question asked. If your lawyer feels like more information is needed, she will ask additional questions. If some facts don't make you look so good, you should be the one to introduce them, if possible. You know your spouse will if you don't. If you can bring up the bad news first, you can give your perspective and potentially soften its impact. Don't try to alter the facts to make yourself look better because your spouse's lawyer will pick up on this and make you look like a liar when he gets the chance to cross-examine you.


When your lawyer finishes her questions, your spouse's lawyer will conduct cross-examination. Your spouse's lawyer will try to ask questions that can be answered only “yes” or “no.” Try to answer the questions in this way and do not give additional information. In trying to explain, you might give your spouse's lawyer additional ammunition to make you look bad. Also, if you try and explain your answers, the lawyer probably will say, “This question calls for a yes or no answer.” Sometimes a judge will let you explain, but if she doesn't, don't get upset. Your lawyer will give you a chance during redirect examination. If your children are represented by a lawyer, he will also get a chance to ask you questions about the testimony you provided on direct examination.

Redirect Examination and Re-cross-examination

After cross-examination, your lawyer will get another chance to ask you questions about what you testified to on cross-examination. This is called redirect examination. Your lawyer will use this time to clarify information and try to reframe negative information in a more positive way. After redirect, your spouse's lawyer will get a chance to re-cross or ask you questions about the testimony you provide on redirect.

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