Witnesses are an important part of any Pennsylvania custody proceeding. A handful of well-chosen, relevant witnesses can make a big difference in your case.
It will be important for you to sit down with your lawyer, providing the names and contact information of potential witnesses. You will also need to have some idea of what each witness can bring to the table.
Keep in mind each witness needs to be available to give testimony, though for the most part they’ll be doing so through a written statement called an affidavit. You also want witnesses who can shed light on different aspects of your child’s life and parenting experience. You don’t want to parade out four witnesses who all say the same thing. And remember, witnesses can’t testify to “hearsay,” only to things they saw and heard directly.
With that in mind, here are some prospects to think about.
In many cases this is the weakest kind of witness, because the judge expects members of your family to take your side. But if, say, on ten occasions you had to drop your child off with your sister because your ex didn’t show up on time for his or her appointed visitation, she might make a good witness. Or if a member of your family directly witnessed your ex shouting verbal abuse at your child, that’s something worth putting forth for the judge’s consideration.
Friends of the Family
This is a somewhat stronger form of witness, as presumably the friend was friends with both you and your ex. Just make sure the friends you choose have had ample time to observe how one or both of you interact with your child. If they don’t have anything useful to offer it’s better not to bother them.
Parents of Your Child’s Friends
This type of witness can be quite strong, and can add testimony on several relevant facts. Which parents made the playdates? Which parents picked up the child and dropped him or her off? Did the parents observe any behavior of concern when they picked up or dropped off their own child?
Child Care Providers, Teachers, and Coaches
These are very strong witnesses, as they interact with your child every day. They can comment on who did pick-ups and drop offs, who came to conferences, who called in when the child was sick, and how you and your child interacted at these times. If they had any conversations with you or your ex which might be relevant they might include those as well. They can also testify that you are doing a good job of enforcing your child’s attendance.
Doctors, Dentists, and Therapists
This is another very strong set of witnesses. They can comment on which parent brought the child to appointments, who was involved in the child’s treatment plan, and the child’s general health and wellness. If your child sustained any injuries while in your ex’s care they can testify to this as well. Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists may be able to give expert recommendations which can help your case. If they’re you’re mental health professional they can testify to a mental illness you have being well-controlled.
See also: How Mental Illness Can Impact a Custody Case.
Members of the Clergy
If you and your family attended church regularly then your pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or equivalent holy person probably got a lot of chances to see you and your family in action. They, too, might have other bits of perspective to offer that could be useful.
Maybe. We’re looking for people who have had a lot of chances to interact with you and your child. For the most part, we’re looking for people who can strengthen your position as a good parent, rather than attacking your ex as a bad parent. If abuse or neglect were present, then we’d be looking for the evidence of the neglect or abuse.
See also: What is Parental Alienation?
They’ll be stronger choices if they’ve known you for a long time and have seen you regularly. In general, we’re going to be working to put your strongest pieces of evidence forward first.
You also want people who are able to convey evidence in a clear, concise, and orderly way, who don’t veer off or get into irrelevant issues.
But if you think someone should be included, don’t hesitate to tell your lawyer.