Family law matters can be complex and emotionally charged. Understanding the legal moves can empower you to participate more effectively and more confidently navigate these situations. 

One vital aspect of pre-trial discovery is the deposition. Depositions are a critical part of the justice process, allowing attorneys to gather important information and testimony from a statement given under oath by a witness before trial

But what exactly is a deposition? How does it work? And why are depositions so crucial? In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about depositions and their role in family law cases.

An Interview Under Oath

A deposition is a formal, out-of-court legal proceeding where a witness is questioned under oath and their testimony is recorded by an official court reporter. This testimony can then be used as evidence — and false statements could lead to charges of perjury. 

This transcript becomes a valuable tool in the discovery phase of a case, as it allows attorneys to gather information, assess the credibility of witnesses, and uncover potential weaknesses in the opposing party’s position.

While depositions are often thought of in the context of dramatic television courtroom dramas, in reality, they are relatively straightforward legal proceedings that simply allow attorneys to gather important testimony and background surrounding the issues at stake.

More About the Process

Depositions are taken from several key players in a family law case, also known as “deponents”:

  • Spouses and parents: All parties directly involved in the case can be deposed.
  • Witnesses: Anyone with relevant information, like financial advisors, child care providers, or even friends and relatives, can be subpoenaed for a deposition.
  • Experts and opinions: If your case relies on testimony from experts such as a child psychologist or an appraiser, for example, they may be deposed to explain their methodologies and opinions.

This process is common in divorce proceedings, especially during parental responsibility evaluations, where depositions can cover parenting abilities, details about living situations, and relationships with the child. 

In cases where assets and incomes need to be divided and spousal support and/or child support are being determined, spouses may be deposed about their finances, spending habits, investments, and funding sources. This ensures full financial disclosure and a fair judgment.

One key distinction between depositions and actual courtroom testimony during trial is that while objections may be noted in the transcript, the proceedings are more free-flowing with fewer interruptions or restrictions on questioning compared to a trial setting.

This allows deposing attorneys more leeway to explore different lines of questioning and gather a wide range of testimony and information that may become relevant during settlement negotiations

What to Expect

Depositions typically take place in a conference room at an attorney’s office. While it’s more casual than presenting former testimony in front of a judge and jury, this is a serious legal proceeding where proper conduct and etiquette are required

Before the deposition, clients will be meticulously prepared by their legal team. This involves discussing the case, anticipating potential questions, and crafting clear and concise responses. 

As in court, deponents are sworn in to tell the truth. The opposing attorney will then ask a series of questions, ranging from general background information to details specific to the case. 

Objections may be raised to questions deemed irrelevant, privileged, or overly broad. The court reporter will note the objection for the judge to rule on later. In Illinois, the length of the deposition must not exceed 3 hours, unless the Court extends said amount of time upon good cause shown.

It’s essential for those being deposed to provide honest and concise answers and avoid rambling speeches or extended commentary. While family law matters can be emotionally charged, remaining calm and professional during the deposition is crucial. If you are unsure about how to answer a question, never hesitate to look to your attorney for guidance.

At the conclusion of the deposition, each party’s counsel will have the opportunity to review each transcript, assess the credibility of the testimony given, and evaluate the statements for inconsistencies. These documents are a valuable source of information for attorneys and hopefully lead to a positive outcome. 

You’re Not Alone

Going through the deposition process can be complex and challenging, particularly in the context of family law cases, which often involve sensitive and emotionally charged issues.

Having depositions on record that showcase the anticipated strengths and weaknesses of each party’s arguments often motivates good-faith efforts at a compromise both sides can amicably accept, avoiding the costs and turmoil of a prolonged trial process.

When potentially life-altering issues like asset division, parental allocation, spousal support, and more are at stake, you deserve a legal team dedicated to vigorously protecting your rights and interests. Together, we can navigate this journey and help you achieve the best possible results — reach out to the Law Offices of J. Jeltes today!