Should your divorce or legal separation case appear to be heading towards the need for a trial, there is a requirement that each side provide the other with a list of potential witnesses, that they may call at the trial. In King County Superior Court the deadline to exchange a list of “primary” witnesses is listed in the “case schedule” generated at the start of the case. For many of the cases in King County Superior Court, the exchange date is twenty two weeks before the trial date.
One of the main reasons for exchanging witnesses lists, well in advance of the trial, is it gives the other side the time, and ability, to learn what that witness will be saying at the trial. Through the use of certain discovery methods, such as depositions, each side can learn exactly what information each witness has to offer. The witness list is also one of the first true indicators of how long the trial might be (obviously, the more witnesses, the longer it will take to hear them all).
If the only issues involve assets and debts it is possible that only the husband and wife will be witnesses. Sometimes, if there is a complex asset issue, such as a value of a pension or home, then each side might hire an expert to give his/her opinion on the value. If there is a disagreement on a parenting plan for any children, then the number of witnesses can go up significantly. Depending on the parenting issues, each side may wish to have many family and friends address how well they address the children’s needs, or address the problems with the other parent. Also, there is a high probability that one, or both sides, will have a Guardian ad Litem or parenting evaluator testify. The larger number of witnesses, which translates into a longer trial, is one of the reasons that a “custody battle” is so expensive.
Above, I mentioned the exchange of “primary witnesses”. Once each side has provide his/her initial witnesses, each side also has an opportunity to address “additional witnesses”. In many cases, these additional witnesses are rebuttal witnesses to something being said by a primary witness.
Failure to provide witnesses can result in a judge not allowing that party to use them at the time of trial. But since the judge has discretion on this issue, there is no uniformity on this issue. Knowing this, the safest course of action is to always provide, in a timely fashion, a list of all your witnesses. This practice will also help prepare a party for trial, since it forces that party to analyze all of the issues and how to present them to the court at trial.
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This blog article is not intended to convey legal advice, but only address some of the general rules. Most legal issues, in family law cases, depend on the specific facts. Should you wish to discuss your particular situation with the Law Office of Thomas A. Chillquist, please call or email my office. I am a family law lawyer (divorce attorney) and I represent parties in family law, and divorce, matters in King and Pierce County, Washington, including Kent, Federal Way, Covington, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Orting, Tacoma and Mercer Island.