Child custody cases are some of the most complex and emotional in the world of family law. In order to pursue the “best interests” of the child or children involved, parents can consider a range of options. Some will consider working things out through mediation or negotiation, others may believe litigation is the most effective strategy for their needs.
In all instances, accessing the support of an experienced family lawyer is always recommended. Even in mediation, having your own consulting attorney can be a crucial part of ensuring you achieve the right outcomes in your case. However, it’s particularly important to have the right guidance if your case makes its way in front of a judge and testimony is being heard.
Divorce attorneys and child custody lawyers have the ability to use a range of methods to demonstrate their client is capable of supporting the best interests of their children. Often, this means using cross-examination and direct examination at the right moments throughout the trial.
So, what happens in cases wherein an individual may choose to represent themselves?
Guidance for Cross Examination in Child Custody Trials
Ultimately, self-representation is never recommended for any legal case. In the space of family law, representing yourself can be particularly difficult, as emotions are likely to be running high. When it comes to presenting your case in front of a court, having a family law attorney on hand to conduct a cross-examination is extremely useful. The attorney should understand the differences between direct and cross-examination when switching between direct examination of one’s own witness and cross examination of the other sides’ witness in order to present the right information.
However, in instances wherein accessing an attorney is not an option, the best strategy for many clients may be to access the support of a family law lawyer as a consultant. While a consultant will not be able to conduct the cross-examination themselves, they can provide some crucial guidance to try to empower a person as best one can to represent themselves.
For instance, a consultant will explain the purpose of cross examination is to bring out facts supporting the party’s story. Unlike direct examination, cross examination can involve leading questions, to help push a witness to showcase the right information. For instance, a cross examination question might be: “You never picked the child up from school, did you?”
While cross-examination might seem simple enough on the surface, it can be extremely complicated. Having an attorney present while you are planning out the questions you are going to ask in a case and figuring out how to ask crucial questions at the right moment can make all the difference to the case. Although a consultant may be able to provide advice on what kind of questions to ask, it won’t be the same as having the attorney there, and present in the court. Certainly it is better though than not having any legal advice and representing oneself.
Addressing the Complexities of Cross Examination
Consultants can sometimes provide useful information and guidance to those who choose to represent themselves in child custody cases. They may offer advice about how to use specific words to lead the question. These consultants could also offer insights into how the party might use looping questions to guide the conversation and help support their case.
However, it’s worth remembering that even with guidance, a cross-examination can be one of the most stressful parts of a child custody case for all parties involved. The process often involves attempting to undermine a witness by showing that they may be mis-informed or unreliable. This can be difficult for someone without the correct experience or training.
In a child custody case, an attorney may often attempt to show that a witness has a specific bias towards a party in the case. For instance, a grandmother speaking on behalf of their daughter is more likely to be biased towards her daughter. If you’re representing yourself in your case, it can be difficult to highlight this prejudice correctly.
Additionally, in the case of child custody cases, cross-examination isn’t always the right strategy. Sometimes less is more, and it may be best not to cross-examine the witness at all, particularly if they did not hurt your case. However, depending on how you feel in the moment at court, you may be inclined to cross examine anyway, which may or may not be effective.
Leveraging Cross Examination in Child Custody
In cases involving child custody, both cross and direct examination can be valuable tools. They can help the court to make important decisions about which parent is able to offer support which addresses the best interests in the child. In some cases, cross-examination can even help to outline whether one parent should not be permitted parenting time or visitation rights, or whether they should be supervised whenever they’re with the child.
For instance, in a case regarding child custody where the plaintiff suggests the defendant has been abusive towards them or their children, cross examination can be very important. It is an excellent way of collecting evidence from witnesses which proves the abuse. The person’s lawyer claiming abuse, in most cases, would attempt to cross-examine any witnesses that testified that the abuse did not happen, to undermine their credibility. However, this can be difficult to do if you’re representing yourself, particularly if you feel anxious or nervous in court.
Ultimately, the purpose of cross examination isn’t to simply badger or undermine witnesses, but to ensure the court has the clearest understanding of each situation relating to the child’s best interests. The courts can only examine the evidence that has been provided to them through witnesses in the case. If the witnesses aren’t correctly cross-examined, this could mean that important information goes unsaid within the case.
The best way to ensure you can leverage cross examination and direct examination correctly in a case of child custody, is to work with an attorney with experience in these matters. However, if representing yourself truly seems to be your only option, you should at least ensure you have the support and guidance of the right consultant.
To learn more about up front representation or the consultation support I can offer, please contact my office at your earliest convenience. You can get in touch over the phone or via our online form to schedule a free initial consultation lasting up to 30 minutes.