What Are the Rules of Evidence in a Georgia Family Law Case?
The parties to a Georgia family law case must adhere to certain rules of evidence if the information they present to a hearing can be admissible.
Evidence can be taken from witnesses or via documentation. Here are some of the main kinds of evidence in a Georgia divorce proceeding.
Evidence from Lay Witnesses
During divorce trials in Georgia, each party may offer several witnesses to back up his or her claims. There is a different rule at temporary hearings where only the parties involved in the hearing and one additional witness from each side may present oral testimony.
Under Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.5(A) the evidence given by witnesses must be relevant to the case.
The use of lay witnesses in divorce proceedings or other family matters is the most common form of evidence. Witness testimony may be used to provide facts the witness is aware of if they are pertinent to contested items in the case. He or she may have heard statements made by the parties and be able to back them up. For example, a witness may shed more light on a spouse’s misconduct or the parenting ability of a spouse.
The testimony of a lay witness may be valuable in adding validity to the claims made by a party to the divorce. The Georgia divorce courts value specific and first-hand evidence from lay witnesses. Examples are:
- A neighbor who saw a spouse being abusive or violent to a partner;
- A teacher testifying about a parent’s involvement in the education of his or her children.
In some cases, the testimony of children may be relevant. A judge may request to speak with a child in chambers. The age of the child is relevant to his or her suitability to be a lay witness. Under the rules of evidence, attorneys are generally not permitted to question children.
Evidence from Expert Witnesses
The testimony of expert witnesses can be powerful in a family proceeding. The rules for using expert witness testimony are set out under Georgia code. A party who wants to use an expert witness must show the testimony of the expert will help the judge or jury understand a topic that would be difficult to comprehend without the expert testimony. Common uses of an expert include:
- A property appraiser who can give an expert opinion on the value of the matrimonial property or rental property.
- A guardian ad litem who can give an expert view on the custody arrangement that would be in the best interests of a child or children.
- A child psychologist who can give a view about the impact of parental behavior or a custody plan on the best interests of the children.
Photographic or video evidence
In Georgia, physical evidence like photographs and video recordings, or voice recordings may be used to back up claims. For instance, if a spouse is alleging adultery, video of a former partner visiting the home of a lover may be relevant. Evidence of this nature may also be used to substantiate abuse claims.
However, to be admissible at a trial, any physical evidence presented to the court should be relevant to the issues in contention and authenticated before the court can admit and consider the evidence in question.
Documentary evidence plays an important part in divorce proceedings. It must be relevant to the issues in dispute to be admissible and heard by the court. The party who uses documentary evidence must be able to vouch for its authenticity.
Examples of documentary evidence can include:
- Bank statements and pay stubs;
- School records, proposed child custody and parenting time schedules and guardian ad litem findings.
- Property records and business records that give an indication of the value of property.
- Proposed child support worksheets and other documents drawn up by the parties;
- Letters, emails and text messages to prove issues such as spousal misconduct such as abusive behavior and adultery.
Preparing for a divorce hearing is a meticulous and stressful process. A Georgia divorce attorney can help you avoid pitfalls and will advise you of the admissibility of evidence. Please call The Law Office of Michael West at (404) 913-1529.