By: Catherine Sutherland

By: Catherine Sutherland

Catherine Sutherland is a Senior Associate Attorney at WhitbeckBennett. Catherine was born and raised in Southern California and is an experienced litigation attorney, focused on family law. Her prior experience includes working as a litigation attorney for a large national law firm, as well as employment with both state and federal agencies. To learn more about Catherine, click here.

Tips for Testifying in a Domestic Violence Case 


Domestic violence cases are among the most difficult to prepare for, most notably for the victim of the abuse. Examples of where the victim likely will have to testify are:

-Protective order cases (sometimes called restraining orders)
-Child custody cases
-Divorce proceedings
-Criminal cases

It’s important you have an attorney experienced in domestic violence issues to prepare you to testify in the best way possible. Here are some tips for testifying in a hearing involving domestic violence issues:


  1. Show respect to the court by showing up on time and dressing appropriately. This means dressing as you would for a job interview.  
  2. While in the courthouse, be sure that your behavior reflects the seriousness of the reason that you are appearing before the court. This is not a time for laughter or otherwise exhibiting anything but a serious demeanor. 
  3. When testifying, speak loudly enough so that you are heard in the courtroom. There is no need to yell but many people are not used to speaking in public. It requires more than the level you would use across a dinner table. You can practice this with your attorney prior to your court date. 
  4. Make eye contact with the judge and anyone posing questions to you while you testify. You do not have to make eye contact with your abuser or anyone else unless directed by the court or your attorney to do so. 
  5. Do not rush your speech. Answer the questions at a conversational pace. Often, there will be a court reporter transcribing your testimony. The transcript will be clear if you speak slowly, loudly, and deliberately. Again, you can practice this with your attorney prior to appearing in court. 
  6. If you need an interpreter, let your attorney know. 
  7. If you need a break, tell your attorney. It’s okay to take a break if you need it. You need not leave the witness stand to take some deep breaths and gather your thoughts or even request a drink of water. You can shut your eyes, focus your mind on something that calms you and when you are ready, let the court know you are able to proceed. 
  8. Always address the judge as “Your Honor” when asking or answering any questions posed by the judge. 
  9. When telling your story, you are not expected to do anything other than describe exactly what happened. 
  10. Never try to guess if your answer will hurt or help your case. Simply state the truth to the best of your recollection. If you do not remember something, then stating that you do not remember is a perfectly satisfactory answer.
  11.  Do not elaborate upon any answer with what you think may have happened. If you do not have a clear memory, then say so. 
  12. Answer the question posed and nothing else. Listen to the question and answer only the question. Do not offer more than what is asked. Do not provide opinions or conclusions and do not repeat what anyone else had said to you unless specifically asked such a question. 
  13. Once a question is posed to you, wait a moment before you answer the question. Your attorney may need to state an objection. The judge will then either sustain the objection and instruct you not to answer to question or overrule the objection and instruct you to answer.
  14. If you do not understand a question, state that you do not understand the question. Never guess what is being asked if the question is not clear to you. Additionally, if you don’t know the answer to a question, “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response.

The court has rules in place to protect you while you are in court, as well as before and after your court appearance. If anyone tries to intimidate you into not testifying or tries to influence you into changing your testimony, immediately contact your attorney.


If you have specific fears the defendant will attempt to harm you or your loved ones if you testify, immediately tell your attorney. If the defendant has access to guns, immediately tell your attorney. There are rules in place to effectively address all these concerns.

Our attorneys at WhitbeckBennett have extensive experience in domestic violence cases and can help you both in and out of court with your preparation and testimony. Give us a call to set up a consultation to find out how we can help.


Contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or emailing clientservices@wblaws.com.