Objections can be made to questions asked of witnesses in order to prevent testimony from being heard and to protect the record in case of an appeal. Common objections in family law include lack of relevance, calls for speculation, lack of foundation, beyond the scope, and asked and answered. Simply put, your spouse's attorney is not allowed to ask you questions that are not relevant to the issues, pertain to subject matters about which your attorney did not already question you, require you to speculate (or guess) in order to provide an answer, ask you to provide information about a document that has not been admitted to evidence, or ask you questions that you have already answered using different words in order to confuse you or attempt to get a different answer.1 This blog covers objections generally made at trial and how the process works once an objection has been lodged.
Once you have been asked a question, it is very important that you think about your answer and give your attorney a moment to make an objection to every question that you are asked. If an objection is made, wait quietly for the Judge to make a decision on your attorney’s objection. If you have already begun answering the question before your attorney objects, you should immediately stop answering. In some instances, an objection may require some conversation between the Judge and both attorneys and in others, the Judge will immediately make a decision on the objection.
Objections can either be overruled or sustained. Overruling an objection means that the judge does not consider the objection valid, and the witness must answer the question. Sustaining an objection means the Judge agrees with the objection and the witness is not required to answer the question.
If the Judge overrules your attorney’s objection, you should then answer the question. If you do not remember the exact question, ask if the question can be asked again. Keep in mind that because your attorney objected to the question, it is one he or she does not want you to answer, Therefore, you should keep the answer as short as possible unless with unwavering resolve you know your answer will not be harmful to your legal objection. Answering with a simple “yes” or “no” would be best.
In the case that you are unable to answer a particular question with a “yes” or “no”, provide as little information as possible in response to the question, while still fully answering it. It can be frustrating to not say everything that you want to say and tell your whole story, but your own attorney will make sure to ask you the appropriate questions to get in all of your story that he or she believes will help you when he or she gets redirect of your testimony. When testifying, it is important to remember that your spouse's attorney is not there to help you, and the questions they ask of you are meant to elicit testimony that will only help your spouse in most cases.
If the Judge sustains your attorney’s objection, that means that you do not have to answer the question and you should simply wait for the next question before saying anything. Under no circumstances should you answer a question to which your attorney’s objection is sustained. This can be difficult at times, as it may be a question that you want to answer. However, you hired your attorney for his or her expertise and should trust them when they decide that they do not want you to answer a question. If you feel as if answering the question is important, discuss this with your attorney later. There are many breaks and recesses in trials/hearing. They can always put you back on the stand and ask you the question themselves if they agree that your answer will help, and not hurt you, if necessary and helpful to your case.
Remember, your attorney is there to help you and your spouse's attorney is there to help your spouse. Trust your attorney to ask you the questions that need to be asked to give you the best chance at obtaining your legal objectives (e.g., to obtain sole physical custody) and keep your answers to your spouse’s attorney’s questions as brief as possible, while ensuring that your story is being told. “Yes”, “no” and “I don’t remember” are perfectly acceptable answers and no more elaboration is required. Don’t guess! Above all, if your attorney objects to a question asked of you, stop and do not answer unless and until the objection is ruled upon and the attorneys stop talking with the judge about the pending objection. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to be relied upon in any legal circumstance or analyze any specific legal issue. Additionally, the blog is not legal advice. It is an advertisement.