Following last week’s post from Karen Jeary sharing what the family courts expect from parents in children proceedings, this post has been designed to help parents prepare for giving evidence in court.

If you are a parent involved in court proceedings about your child, you are likely experiencing one of the most stressful times in your life.  It is difficult enough for those who have a lawyer guiding them through the process, but many parents find that they have no choice but to represent themselves as they can’t afford representation and legal aid is only available for family cases in very limited circumstances.

The conclusion of the proceedings, if you have not been able to reach an agreement with the other parent along the way, will be a final hearing.  You are likely to be asked to give evidence at this hearing which can feel very intimidating if you don’t know what to expect.

As a lawyer I have a duty to the court, not just my client, so I am not allowed to ‘coach’ my clients.  I cannot for example rehearse likely questions and answers with them before they give evidence.

What I am able to do is explain to my clients what is likely to happen on the day and give them some tips to make sure that they present themselves (and their case) in the best possible way. It also helps to lessen the nerves and anxiety which are inevitable.

Tips for parents giving evidence in court

What happens at a final hearing?

If they are instructed, the family lawyers will usually start by giving their opening statements.  If you are representing yourself then you can give an opening statement but try to keep it concise and factual.  This is an opportunity to summarise your case and explain how it is illustrated by the evidence before the court.  It is not an opportunity for you to give evidence or opinion.  If in doubt keep it short, if you end up ranting about the other parent or how unfairly you have been treated it will not help how the court perceives you.

Next the court will hear evidence.  Usually any professional witnesses, such as social workers or Cafcass officers, will be heard first, followed by the applicant and then the respondent.  When it is your turn to give evidence, you will go into the witness box where you should find drinking water and the trial bundle, which is a bundle of all the papers in the case which are being considered by the court.  You will be asked to swear that you will tell the truth by swearing an oath (religious) or affirming (promising the court).  You must take this seriously, if you lie whilst giving evidence you will be in contempt of court.  You will then be taken to your statements of evidence and asked to confirm that they are true.

Your family lawyer, if you have one, may ask you some questions to clarify or update your written evidence.  The other party’s lawyer, or if there is no lawyer the other party themselves, will then have an opportunity to ask you questions.  This is called cross examination and is an opportunity to ‘stress test’ your evidence.  Your lawyer then has a chance to ask you a few more questions at the end if they feel it would be helpful.  Sometimes the Judge or Magistrates will ask you some questions as you go, or save questions until the end.

After everyone has given evidence there is an opportunity for closing statements.  If you are representing yourself, similar rules apply to the opening statement.  It is an opportunity to highlight to the court how the evidence that has been heard supports the case which  you had set out at the start of the hearing.  Keep it to the point and concise.

Tips for giving evidence

If you remember these tips while you give evidence you should give your best impression to the court.

  • Re-read any written statements you have filed to refresh your memory.  Also familiarise yourself with the rest of the evidence before the court.  Concentrate on the issues that are in dispute and the weak areas of your case, as these are the areas that you are most likely to be questioned about.
  • It may seem obvious but the most important thing is to listen to the question and make sure you answer the question that is asked.  Keep your answers to the point.  Don’t be tempted to elaborate or find yourself going off at a tangent, it may not be relevant and could even be damaging to your case.  If you don’t understand a question, say so.
  • Take your time. Speak slowly and clearly, the lawyers and Judge or Magistrate will be taking notes as you go.  Make sure you fully understand the question and think about your answer before you start talking.
  • Try not to be defensive. This is easier said than done when the other party’s lawyer may be intentionally trying to trip you up.  You don’t want to give the impression you have something to hide and defensiveness can sometimes be misinterpreted as aggression.   Your evidence will be more persuasive if you appear to be relaxed and open with the court.
  • Keep your cool. Stay polite and calm.  If you lose your temper in the witness box the Judge or Magistrate may be wondering what you are like behind closed doors.
  • Direct your answers to the Judge or Magistrates. They will be assessing your answers to inform their final decision.  It may also be easier to give a calm and reasoned answer to them than the lawyer who is intentionally asking you tricky questions.
  • You may find the experience stressful and/or upsetting. If you need a break, let the Judge or Magistrates know.  Also speak up if you need a comfort break, sometimes cross-examination can go on for some time and will be difficult to concentrate and give your best evidence if you are distracted by needing the toilet.  There should be water in the witness box, but if you need some, ask.

There is no doubt that appearing in court can be a daunting experience and when it involves your family, all sorts of emotions may be involved. Taking specialist professional advice from a family lawyer throughout your case will not only improve your chances of securing the best outcome, but the right family lawyer will provide important emotional support too.

This blog was originally written by Lauren Guy. For a consultation with a member of our specialist family law team please contact us. 

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48 responses to “Tips for parents giving evidence in court

  1. You mentioned about not ranting with evidence. Can the judge take petty domestic issues as evidence or is there a law that the judge can only consider relevant child access matters in the decision making process? I am asking as I have just had a final hearing where mum has made allegations against me and I have only given relevant child focussed evidence, however the judge has taken mums allegations into consideration for the final judgement. This was not a fact finding mission.

    1. Thank you for your comment. The court is generally only interested in evidence that is relevant to question in hand, what arrangements are in the children’s best interests? I am unable to comment any further given I was not in attendance at the hearing.

  2. My son has a solicitor but can no longer pay the cost. Can he go forward and give evidence himself without a solicitor or barrister for final hearing

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, if your son cannot afford a solicitor then he can represent himself within the proceedings.

    1. We have removed this, Susan. A member of our team will follow up on your query shortly

  3. If social services took my son into temporary foster care while my partner and I was in hospital looking after our son. Can a judge rule for temporary foster care while we are not in court?

    1. Thank you for your comment Kevin. I would require more information from you before I can answer your question. Parents who are respondents in care proceedings are entitled to legal aid so I recommend that you contact a legal aid solicitor urgently to arrange representation.

  4. I reluctantly agreed to a interim care order in January, I am due back in court shortly and have received the social workers Parenting Assessment. I disagree with a large amount of the assessment and some of the information is inaccurate, which I can prove. A large amount of the assessment is based on the social workers opinion and not fact based. The social workers recommendation is for the children to stay in long term foster care until they are 18. My solicitor stated that he doesn’t feel I should challenge the assessment and that I should agree to the recommendation that they remain in permanent foster care as he believes I haven’t a case to fight. I don’t want to agree and I feel I am being bullied into agreeing. I am also being advised that if I take the stand they will tear me apart and continue to search for more evidence against me. What do I do?

  5. I reluctantly agreed to a interim care order in January, I am due back in court shortly and have received the social workers Parenting Assessment. I disagree with a large amount of the assessment and some of the information is inaccurate, which I can prove. A large amount of the assessment is based on the social workers opinion and not fact based. The social workers recommendation is for the children to stay in long term foster care until they are 18. My solicitor stated that he doesn’t feel I should challenge the assessment and that I should agree to the recommendation that they remain in permanent foster care as he believes I haven’t a case to fight. I don’t want to agree and I feel I am being bullied into agreeing. I am also being advised that if I take the stand they will tear me apart and continue to search for more evidence against me. What do I do?
    Can I ask for a extension of the proceedings?

    1. Thank you for your comment Cheryl, I am sorry to hear about the difficult position you find yourself in. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide tailored legal advice on this forum. Your solicitor’s role is to advise you what he or she is in your best interests, using their training and experience. Whilst it is sensible for you to properly consider your solicitors advice, remember that the decision is yours to make.

  6. What is the likelihood of a father being granted 50/50 custody of a child that is 6 months old and exclusively breastfed? I know the laws are more equal in terms of gender but surely this is not common practice in the UK for an infant?

    1. Thank you for your comment. When making a decision as to with whom a child should live the court will take int account all of the circumstances of a case. This will include if a child is being breastfed. If you would like to discuss your case in more detail please contact us to arrange an initial appointment.

  7. What is the criteria for getting a safety order renewed. My ex broke the current safety order 2 years ago. It is due to expire soon. Will i get a new one.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Emma. Unfortunately we can not give legal advice on this forum as we would need to know much more about your situation and the order to you refer to as a ‘safety order’ before answering your question. If an order has been made against your ex-partner for your protection, such a non-molestation order or restraining order, then you may be eligible for legal aid if you meet the financial eligibility criteria.

  8. I have 4 grandchildren under a kinship care order & was providing childcare to another grandchild as well as the other 4 in my care. Social services asked me to take the next baby in the sibling group of the 4 already in my care & I had to refuse as there were to many children for me to care for in my opinion. Since then my circumstances have changed & I only have the 4 grandchildren under the kinship care order to care for now & I have been made party to proceedings for the youngest sibling currently in foster care. I am currently representing myself but am concerned the judge will dismiss our abilities to care correctly for this grandchild also under the same kinship agreement as the older siblings?

    1. Thank you for your comment Helen. I would recommend that you instruct a solicitor who is a member of the Law Society Children Panel to represent you within the current proceedings.

  9. Hi. I am currently preparing for next hearing. my custody dispute has moved from being heard by family magistrates to the district judge. The next hearing will be note hearing in front (via telephone conference call) of a district judge. Is the above post referring to cases in this setting or will there be another way I should be approaching this. I am representing myself but I will up against a solicitor for the other party. or is there somebody I could talk too

    1. Hello Chris. If you would like to discuss your case with someone please contact the office and we will be happy to book you in for an initial appointment.

  10. I and my wife separated in Jan 2019, we have shared the children 50 / 50 from the start by an agreement between both parties. However, in December 2019 she wanted to change this arrangement which I did not agree with. Following this, she then applied to the courts for a CAO.

    We had the first hearing in March 2020 where the Judge kept the status quo of 50 / 50 but tweaking the arrangement to 7 days off, 7 days on, ordered a Section 7 Report.

    I received the Section 7 report whereby it was recommended that the both children live both parents on alternative weeks.

    We had the following up hearing whereby I agreed with the report however the ex-wife disagreed with the report which has now resulted in the court going to a final hearing.

    Although this is disappointing what are the chances of the final hearing going with the Section 7 Recommendations still?

    1. Thank you for your comment Ian. Generally, the recommendation of a well prepared section 7 report will hold a lot of weight with a Judge, but they are not determinative and the final decision will rest with the Judge rather than the author of the section 7 report.

  11. can an ex partner use photos and videos taken out of context, to paint one as one thing and themselves as something else?

    1. Thank you for your comment. Within the proceedings you will have the opportunity to challenge any evidence filed by the other party and the court will determine how much weight should be placed on a particular piece of evidence.

  12. Please can i ask during fact finding I am LIP, Ex has barraster. I received witness statement within a week od hearing. Can i take along with me proof of his allegations and provide to court even though i have not submitted it electronically prior to hearing?

    1. Thank you for your comment. Usually the court must give permission for evidence to be filed. You could ask for permission to file a statement on the day, if there is no time to apply in advance.

  13. My ex lies in court and cafcass, they all seem to believe her lies, as a result cafcass are recommending she retains residence, the cafcass officer has been bias from the start, she has been nothing but rude to me and my partner, once telling her to “shut up” we have both seen her laughing and joking with my ex despite my ex claiming she doesn’t speak english, everytime she gets caught lying in court she blames her interpreter, how can I expect to win this case under these conditions?

    1. Unfortunately, we are not able to comment on a specific case in this forum and could not do so without having sight of all of the case papers. If you require tailored advice please contact the office and we will be happy to schedule an appointment.

  14. If a parent accuses and makes up lies about the other parent, would the judge ask to see evidence or something which relates to their accusations?

    1. Thank you for your comment Christopher. Generally, both parents will have an opportunity to file statements and any other evidence that may assist the court. The Judge will then assess the evidence and make a determination.

  15. I’m struggling with the enormity of my divorce. I’m seeking help from a counsellor, will this be used against me when I go for our custody hearing?

    1. Thank you for your comment Alex. It is really sensible to seek support from a counsellor when going through a major life change such as divorce. Please do not consider this a sign of weakness, the court is often reassured when a parent identifies and accesses support they could benefit from.

  16. My friend is at court on Friday for the final hearing, her ex has serious issues and a compulsive lyer but denies it.

    Hes flown of the handle a few times now infront of the judge, he was told by cascaf he could send a birthday present by post to his son.. he said he would send it to the local post office (They dont even offer this service)

    He complained about Cafcas because the present never arrived so the judge has asked for a receipt. the best part is hes now submitted one and it’s clearly a shopping basket of a major website retailer. It even says no postal address nor payment has been added and hes changed the email address, which on emailing them is a animal website !! Even by visiting the correct retailers website it’s not the same..

    Hes already admitted lying by various methods but the most shocking is he told everyone he had cancer and even got his parents to take him, drop him off at the hospital. Shaved his hair off and took selfies several weeks in a row before beating it..

    Cafcas has recommendations NO contact at all, the judge is already really angry with him and it’s not going to end well..

    My question really is can he get done or could the judge have him charged for submitting it and lying?…

    1. Thank you for your comment. We are unable to give specific advice to individual circumstances within this forum. I would recommend that you obtain some advice as soon as possible from a Resolution lawyer as there are a number of issues that you will need to address.

  17. I have a final hearing date. Cafcass recommendations are for my ex to attend a domestic violence perpetrator programme. My ex refuses to as he disputes this conversation ever happened with cafcass and that cafcass promised him direct contact. The s7 report clearly says no contact prior to attending and completing DVPP. This will now be heard at a 2 day final hearing. Evidence has already been heard at the finding of fact so what evidence will now be heard at the final hearing? What is the judge looking to hear from us? I am a victim of DV so will my perpetrator be able to question me?

    1. Thank you for your comment Rita. A Judge at a final hearing will generally place significant weight on the recommendations of a section 7 report. I cannot comment on whether you will need to give oral evidence at the final hearing or whether your ex-partner will be able to cross examine you directly as I would need a full understanding of your case. If you require tailored advice then I would encourage you to contact the office to make an appointment.

  18. Under cross examination I became frustrated by the questions. I was being pushed for an answer that I couldn’t quantify. I tried to give an answer that would show the question had no bearing on the bigger picture. After the third time of being asked the question I simply answered “I don’t know” – which was true. The line of questioning stoped at this point and went to something else.

    My ex husband avoided questions, deflected, laughed, was sarcastic and rude during cross examination. My barrister described it as like pulling teeth afterwards.

    Do you think the judge would recognise this too?

    In the witness stand Cafcass said child would be at extreme risk of emotional harm if my ex carries on as he does.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sarah. Unfortunately, I am not able to comment on the specifics of your hearing having not been present myself. I am unclear whether this hearing was a final hearing or a hearing regarding an interim issue. If you are required to give evidence again then I would advise you to listen to the question carefully and provide a focused and direct response to what you have been asked. Please call the office and book in for an initial appointment if you require advice tailored to specific circumstances.

  19. Once a court hearing regarding children and mothers visitation, is the solicitors outlined letter binding until the actual court order is received

    1. Thanks for your comment Sash. An order made in court is generally binding from the day it is made, although we are experiencing delays with receiving the sealed orders.

  20. My ex husband is taking me to court for a child arrangement order and he is asking for full custody and for my son to live with him full time. He has filled in a domestic violence allegations form and is claiming that I am abusive emotionally and psychologically towards my son. I believe he has done this because I mentioned that it would cost him money whereas it may not cost me anything as he has been both physically violent and emotionally controlling of me in the past and ongoing. He also has been threatening to take me to court for two years but only actually went a head one week after he was ordered to pay me child maintenance and I believe that this is his true reasoning. I am terrified of losing my son because of his manipulative behaviour.

    1. Thank you for your comment Jennifer. I would suggest that you instruct a solicitor to represent you in the proceedings as soon as possible. If you are a victim of domestic abuse you may be entitled to legal aid. The system does require evidence from a third party source, such as caution or conviction, a social worker, medical professional or refuge worker who are able to confirm that you have been victim of domestic abuse from the respondent. This link explains the evidence that is acceptable to the legal aid board. You must also be financially eligible for legal aid. You can find more information here: https://www.gov.uk/legal-aid/domestic-abuse-or-violence

  21. I am so happy I found your blog and I absolutely love your information about tips parents giving evidence court! I liked and it is wonderful to know about so many things that are useful for all of us! Thanks a lot for this amazing blog!!

  22. We have a first hearing tomorrow and our solicitor, who was supposed to be advising us has told us to obtain other representation, as she is on holiday this week. We have sent through copies of messages to her, which we have been charged for her reading but no advice as to how to present these at the hearing except from her sectary to provide as mush evidence we can. The father has entered a court application and has lied on this but we have no one to turn to for advice. Checks have been done on both parties but a conviction the father has and times he has supposedly spoken to Social service have not appeared yet every contact we have had with both the police and social services is listed. We have no representation in court as we could not afford an additional charge for a barrister and as our solicitor was away he would not have had anyone to speak to about the evidence we has sent through. The only thing the solicitor has done is send a letter to the other party. What do we have to pre4pare at this very late stage and will we be able to send through evidence or do we await for the further investigations that have been recommended by Cafcass. I am writing this for my daughter as she has PTSD which has been hugely triggered by this whole stream of events. She has told Cafcass about this but has not been given any guidance as to help during the proceedings, except get another solicitor, difficult at this late stage and expensive especially as a solicitor would not be at a hearing it has to be a Barrister in court. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    1. Dear Sandra, thank you for your comment. I can see that the court hearing is now likely to have taken place – I hope it went well. If your daughter needs any advice or assistance going forward we would recommend you contact a lawyer who is a member of Resolution. If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch. In the meantime you may find this factsheet helpful:- https://1gu3xt3qq8id2mr6f51sklsr-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/FLP_Factsheet_-_Arrangements_for_the_children_following_relationship_breakdown.pdf

  23. My case is complex, my ex had made severe allegations both criminal and in family court, it took months of adjournments by then I had started drinking, before I was cleared criminally of committing any crimes but when I went back to family court my solicitor and my barrister asked had I started drinking which I said yes, so instead of my barrister saying anything other than I had started drinking,now my drinking is under control and I hardly ever drink in fact and I have proof by way of a key worker who has helped me get the right therapy from all this. My question is if I was to go back to court 1)would she get done for wasting police time,perjury and falsifying evidence but 2) even if by now she has brainwashed our child, would it matter if I still drink no matter if its socially or once every blue moon?

    1. Dear Adam, thank you for your comment. We are unable to provide specific advice within this forum. The background to your case is clearly complex and we would recommend getting in touch with those that previously represented you or seeking advice from a Resolution lawyer.

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