All About Depositions

[Adapted from posts on our Facebook page in June 2016.]

What is a deposition?

A deposition is sworn testimony, taken before a court reporter. It is very similar to testimony in court in that it is a live question-and-answer session involving lawyers and a witness. It is different in that there is not a judge in the room, and usually the pace is a little more relaxed. Still, it is usually a fairly stressful process for the witness (also referred to as the “deponent”).

Why do lawyers take depositions? There are generally three reasons:

  1. To find out what the witness knows (including stuff that might not be directly relevant, or even ultimately admissible).
  2. To find out how the witness will testify in court (is she credible? nervous? polished?).
  3. To try and intimidate or harass the witness.

Most lawyers prefer to take depositions relatively late in the game. Generally this is because depositions are a one-shot deal, and so the questioning lawyer will want the benefit of having responses to as much of his other discovery requests as possible.

Some lawyers like to take depositions early, believing it will throw off the other lawyer and/or the witness. Depending on the important issues in the case, there may be relatively little in the way of documentation needed ahead of time.

Usually party-witnesses are deposed at their own lawyers’ offices. Sometimes depositions are taken at the courthouse or at some other convenient location. Even in contentious cases, things like the location and scheduling of depositions are generally agreed by counsel ahead of time, out of professional courtesy, if nothing else.

Here are a few “rules” that you should keep in mind as the witness headed into your own deposition.

Rule #1 is so simple it’s practically cliche – TELL THE TRUTH, ALWAYS. We all know you have bad facts in your case. That’s because every case has bad facts on both sides. It’s okay. Your lawyer knows how to minimize the damage of bad facts. What he can’t do for you, though, is make up for you getting caught in a lie. There is simply no more damaging thing that can happen to you in your case.

Deposition Rule #2 – RELAX.

Get in the habit of taking a breath after every single question. That will do three things. First, you have a chance to be sure you understood the question. Second, if the question is objectionable, you give your lawyer a chance to object. And third, you keep the record clean by not interrupting the questioning lawyer.

Deposition Rule #3 – UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION.

I think witnesses start to feel stupid at some point in the deposition. I can’t think of any other reason why people try to answer questions they don’t understand – but it happens all the time. There is no shame in making the lawyer, who has been well-trained in the art of asking questions, reformulate his question into something intelligible. And if he refuses to do so, take some satisfaction in knowing you beat the lawyer at his own game of “hide the ball”, by refusing to take his bait.

Deposition Rule #4 – YOU’RE THE STAR!

This one usually catches people by surprise. It’s obvious but it usually needs to be pointed out, but absolutely nothing can happen in the deposition without you, and the questioning lawyer has to work with that inescapable fact. The answers all come from you. If you need a break, ask for a break (just make sure you answer the last question first). If you don’t know the answer, just say that – don’t guess. If you don’t understand the question, make him repeat or explain it. You are in total control, if you want to be.

Age-by-Age Guide to What Children Understand About Divorce

I ran across a great resource for divorcing parents trying to figure out what their kids do and don’t understand about divorce. Check it out here.

Kids older than 11 probably understand just about everything about what’s going on, and likely know a whole lot more than you even appreciate. The best thing you can do for them is make sure they have a relationship with a counselor or other trained person who can be a “sounding board” for them as they work through their emotions surrounding the divorce process.

Support Groups

I was looking for images to go with a series of posts on support groups, and I found this one from Bakersfield (California) Heart Hospital:

I love this image because it captures what Your Post-Divorce Compass is all about – teamwork and process, and how the two can work for you to heal you and let you move on with your life.

Support groups are a great way to get the emotional support you almost certainly need to be able to move forward with your life in a healthy way. Thanks to Google, finding a support group near you is as easy as searching for “divorce support group [ZIP CODE]” and clicking around a little bit. If you haven’t done it, I urge you to do so today.

Do You Have a Tax Accountant?

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

*GULP* Tomorrow is April 15 – tax day! Oh no! Are you prepared?

A tax accountant is a great advisor to have on your team. Maybe your tax picture is pretty simple – you earn a regular salary, put a little in your 401(k), pay your bills, nothing exotic. But you never know where credits and deductions can be hiding, and even something as simple as an alimony obligation or a mortgage interest deduction can make it worthwhile to consult someone trained in tax matters. A tax accountant is also a great complement to your financial advisor, since he or she can help your planner minimize your current and future exposure for taxes. That’s why “Your Post-Divorce Compass” advises you to consult a tax accountant on Day 22.

Oh, and your tax accountant will also know that “tax day” is actually Monday this year, not tomorrow. 😉

Do You Have a Health Insurance Broker?

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

Yesterday we looked at adding an advisor to your team (a financial planner) who will be able to help you comprehensively look at your entire financial picture and plan for all of your goals. Today, we’re going to look at adding a teammate who will be a bit more specialized – a health insurance broker. If you’re following the “Your Post-Divorce Compass” process, you’ll be looking at this specifically on Day 14.

Most likely, you’ll have some sort of health insurance option available from your employer. Still, those plans can be “one size fits most”, and while there may be options, you may not be able to easily sort out which one is best for you. I recommend finding an independent (i.e., not “captive” or beholden to a particular insurer) broker who can help you objectively evaluate your options and find what works best for you. They can be a wealth of information, and usually they are willing to advise you at little or no cost – hoping, of course, that by finding you the best option for you, you’ll let that broker sign you up.

Do You Have a Financial Planner?

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

The theme this week is “teamwork”. Who is on your team? If you’re following the “Your Post-Divorce Compass” process, on Day 23 you’ll start looking for a financial planner.

Do you really need a financial planner? I mean, do you really need someone to tell you “put some money in savings every month, get some life insurance, and don’t do anything crazy”?

A good financial plan is comprehensive and will help you meet whatever goals you want to set yourself, while also keeping those goals realistic. In addition, there are dozens/hundreds/thousands of options and products for you to consider, and it can be dizzying for you to try and sort them out – especially if you don’t have any training or experience in financial matters. A good planner will help you cut through the clutter and confusion and put a good plan in place. I strongly recommend you add one to your team as soon as you can.

Who’s On Your Team?

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

Who’s on your team? If you or someone you know have been through a divorce, then hopefully at a minimum you’ve had a lawyer on your team. You may also have a CPA/accountant, a financial planner, a counselor, a professional organizer, an insurance agent. You may even be involved in a support group.

The point is, you are more likely to work through your divorce more quickly and with less headache and heartache if you have a good support system in place. “Your Post-Divorce Compass” embraces this concept throughout, periodically directing you to consider hiring an appropriate professional to help you with many of the tasks in the book.

Support Through Counseling

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

Are you or someone you know unwilling to try counseling because it’s too “new age” or “touchy-feely”? Or maybe you think a counselor’s role is to judge you, or to tell you how crazy you are, or to make you take pills that have all kinds of scary side effects.

The reality is that a good counselor is trained to help you deal with thoughts and feelings that you have never had before. Often you can find a good counselor who is “in network” for your insurance, so the cost is hopefully manageable for you. If this is an option you haven’t tried and you’re still struggling, you owe it to yourself to consider adding a counselor to your support system.

In the same way, “Your Post-Divorce Compass” can help you work through your struggles with financial and other “nuts and bolts” issues after your divorce.

Support Through Religion

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

It’s a touchy subject, but many major religions – including Judaism, Islam, and all forms of Christianity – recognize that divorce happens even though God’s plan is for lifelong marriage, and they all provide a path for divorced persons to return to the faith. If you or someone you know is struggling with deep-seated core issues of faith because of divorce, the church can be a powerful ally in helping your spiritual and emotional recovery.

Support People, Not Things

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

I recently had a friend tell me that while he was proud of my accomplishments, he couldn’t support “Your Post-Divorce Compass” because he “couldn’t support divorce”. I understand that sentiment completely. But there is a difference between “supporting divorce” and supporting someone who has gone through a divorce. If you know someone who has been through it, helping them take the first step to putting his/her life back together is one of the most loving and supporting things you can do.

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