Child Custody Witnesses
North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 8 governs evidence. In a child custody matter, any witness who can help the trier of fact determine the best interests of the child will be able to testify. However, lay witnesses must have personal knowledge from which to testify. Experts do not need to have personal knowledge, but must meet the criteria for experts. The evidence code and applicable statutes are a subject which cannot be adequately addressed in a short presentation. Rather, this article will discuss different witnesses available to a trier of a custody case and how such testimony can be used.
A case is based on the testimony of witnesses and evidence presented. Pleadings are not evidence, nor is the litany of information provided by people who have definite opinions but “don’t want to get involved”. Your attorney should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case and formulate a case plan. Nothing is more difficult for a judge to follow than a disjointed examination that jumps from one topic to another. Witnesses are not usually gifted with an understanding of the legal process or an ability for painting a picture with words. We love images, pictures, human touches. We want to see a true picture of the person. Every point that is important enough for you to make should be important enough to be supported by an example. Unless all you are seeking is data, you should take the time to humanize yourself for the court.
Child Custody witnesses usually fall into several categories.
A. You And The Other Parent
By far the greatest amount of testimony in a custody case will be from the parties. They are the two people who spent the most time with the child, that observed what the other did in private, that experienced the day to day events which made up the child’s life. Accordingly, both parents should be prepared for extensive examination by each attorney.
Your are your best witness. Write out the history of the marriage and the history of custody. Use this document as your basis for building your case. Often times it will include insights and facts that you had not realized or had forgotten. Your attorney should sit down with you and go over the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
B. Parents and Relatives
Even when you think that the other party’s relatives will support you, remember blood is thicker than water. If your own mother won’t stick up for you, who will? Call them up and see what they say. Unless a relative comes out and says I want to testify for you, think twice about calling them as your witness. However, without actually aligning themselves with your side, the in-laws may be a true aid to your case. The relatives who would rather say the sun sets in the east than say anything bad about their kin should be treated politely and briefly unless they had something substantive to say. Don’t get pulled in to extraneous matters that rile parties but are unimportant to your case.
C. Friends, Neighbors, and Co-workers
As discussed earlier, these witnesses are dull and add nothing to your case unless they can illustrate their testimony by examples. Your attorney should interview and prepare these witnesses in advance. It is often helpful to send the questions you will ask a witness to the witness ahead of time. This practice helps calm the nervous witness and will let you know if you have any details wrong before the witness is on the stand.
D. Teachers, Coaches, Day Care Providers
You should know the names of the children’s teachers, day care providers, coaches, and others having frequent contact with the children. Find out who these people are and what they have to say about the child. Not knowing the day care provider does not make a person a bad parent. Often times family chores are broken up so that one party has the duty to take the kids to day care and pick them up after. This system can work just fine with one parent informing the other of the daily reports. However, when you get to court for custody, the one parent portrays him/herself as the concerned parent and the other as the incompetent one. When separation occurs, it can be difficult for a child. You should make it a point to visit the school and others the child sees frequently to let them know what is going on and make sure she/he is included in sharing information about the child in the future. Teachers and others can show the court who has been the primary caregiver as far as interaction with them is concerned. This information can be very important to the court, especially if a child has special needs or a parent’s lack of involvement is dramatic.
This category includes clergy, doctors and dentists, police, private investigators, friends of the children, or anyone who has information which can aide the trier of fact. The witnesses are case specific. However, every parent should know who and where the child’s doctor is, the specific state of the child’s health, medications taken, allergies and problems. A parent should know the names of the child’s friends and activities that interest the child including television shows, books, extracurricular activities, etc.
Experts in child custody matters usually include the psychologist or evaluator, perhaps a doctor or person who can explain about a child’s medical condition or special needs. Non controversial experts, such as a doctor who would explain the child’s diabetic condition and the daily medical requirements to keep the child healthy could testify by affidavit or video deposition by mutual agreement.