How Do Witnesses Contribute to the Decision-Making Process in Child Custody Hearings and Trials?

If what we learn from witnesses didn’t generally tend to be more informative and reliable than not, then we wouldn’t listen to witnesses at all. No sensible person believes that which he or she knows not to be true, and as long as we don’t know a witness is lying or have reason to believe the witness is lying, we normally benefit from believing what a competent witness says as true.

So, the qualifiers for a good witness or someone who is competent to testify and someone who does not give us any apparent reason to believe the witness is a liar or has any other motive but to tell the truth as the witness perceives it.

Good witnesses in child custody proceedings are witnesses who have personal knowledge of facts that are relevant to the child custody award. Bad witnesses are just the opposite. If the witness convinces us that he or she has such personal knowledge, the court will almost certainly consider that witness’s testimony in formulating its child custody award decision.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult for lying witnesses to get away with lying to the court. Inexperienced liars often (but not always) give themselves away. How? Some ways include: telling unbelievable and inconsistent stories, giving testimony that is clearly biased in favor of one party or clearly biased against the other party, giving testimony that clearly is rehearsed or comes across as rehearsed and not from personal knowledge and easy, confident recall.

Of course, if it weren’t possible to fool people into believing lies, very few lies would be told. Many judges and court personnel (not all, but more than you might suspect) mistakenly believe that they have an above average ability to detect lies. This thus sometimes results in judges accepting as true testimony that is false, and deeming to be false testimony that is true.

This is why lawyers tend to favor objectively verifiable fact over witness testimony, or at least over witness testimony alone, if and when it’s ever possible to provide such independently verifiable objective fact as evidence in a case.

But in child custody cases, given the predominantly private nature of family life, it is hard to prove objectively that a parent has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, physically or emotionally neglectful, an alcohol abuser, mentally or emotionally crippled, a parent who truly cares about his or her children and has formed a strong loving bond with his slash her children, etc.

And so, the next best thing that we have is witness testimony. Not all witness testimony is created or treated equally. If a parent calls his own mother or father or best friend as a witness for that parent, the court is likely to believe or at least suspect—and in my opinion, rightfully so–that such a witness is biased. That such a witness will be likely to downplay (or outright deny) the parents weaknesses and sins and exaggerate (or outright fabricate) the parent’s virtues and accomplishments.

Witnesses who are perceived as most credible are those who don’t appear to have any personal interest in the outcome of the case. People who have nothing to gain or nothing to lose by giving their are honest account and opinions.

For better or for worse, witnesses do inform the judge’s child custody award decision. It’s always frustrating, even sometimes heartbreaking, when a judge believes lying witnesses and disbelieves honest witnesses (and then decides issues based upon false data), but no judge is infallible. The more you can rely upon objective, independently verifiable fact over witness testimony, the better.


Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

Tags: , ,
Click to listen highlighted text!