How to use signed statements to your advantage
A parent walks into a family court with a file full of notarized statements from friends and family members. One statement reads: “He’s a great father, a hard worker and a diligent teacher.” Another says: “Bob should get custody, in my opinion, because he is a moral and spiritual man who loves and supports his children.”
Unfortunately, such statements may never get admitted into evidence when it comes time for a child custody trial. Out-of-court statements (whether notarized or not) are considered hearsay, and they are inadmissible. In fact, a friend or family member who offers up an “opinion” as part of their statement can be blocked too; opinions can only be given by qualified expert witnesses.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t waste your time getting signed statements from your witnesses? No, in fact, getting such statements is a good idea for a number of reasons. First, a signed statement will prevent a witness from changing his or her position if he or she is later summoned to testify in court. It can be used to impeach or cross-examine a witness who tries to change his mind. Secondly, a signed statement can be shown to the other side in pre-trial discovery, and may very well prompt settlement discussions by revealing how many friends and neighbors are already on your side. In some states, too, a sworn or certified statement may be considered by a judge as part of a pre-trial motion for temporary custody, visitation rights or other relief.
So, yes, you should continue to obtain signed statements from useful witnesses, but if you’re planning to go to trial over child custody, then plan on bringing your witnesses in person to the courthouse to testify on your behalf.