In any courtroom case whether criminal or civil, both sides of an argument attempt to achieve a specific outcome. By presenting facts and evidence to support one side of the argument they can move toward achieving their goal. In family court, many types of evidence are admissible during divorce cases, child custody cases, and other family law matters. Before heading to family court in California, it’s important to know what type of evidence is allowed in the courtroom and the legal process for getting it there.
Understanding Relevance in Evidence for Family Law Cases
The California rules of court specify that any evidence presented must be relevant to the case in order to be admissible in a courtroom. The side that seeks to admit something as evidence must first prove its relevance by showing that it’s factually connected to the case at hand. A judge decides on the relevance of evidence and whether or not it’s admissible by considering the following:
- If the evidence supports a fact that’s being presented by making it more probable or disproves an asserted fact by the other side
- If the fact is important to determine an action
Another type of evidence admissible in family court is character evidence. Character evidence includes testimony or facts that help define one party’s character. This type of evidence has relevance in cases where personality and character matter, such as in child custody cases. Character evidence is allowed only when it has adequate foundation, such as when a witness can cite specific examples of behavior on the part of one party in the case. If this type of evidence lacks foundation it’s considered hearsay and a judge is likely to find it inadmissible.
Some evidence may be relevant but isn’t admissible due to privilege, for example, information bound by doctor/patient confidentiality or attorney/client privilege.
Types of Evidence That May be Relevant and Admissible in Family Court
Any evidence that’s found relevant and isn’t hearsay or privileged is admissible. Some common types of evidence used in California family court include:
- Character witnesses
- Expert witnesses
- Financial records
- Police records or criminal records
- Photographs and videos
- Letters, notes, and journal entries
- Emails and text messages
- Posts from social media sites
- Calendar or planner entries
- Audio recordings if both parties consent
All of these examples of evidence may be relevant in divorce cases or child custody cases. For example, if one parent alleges domestic abuse, photographs of injuries support their claim. Testimony or a signed statement with specific examples of times the witness saw good parenting measures and actions taken by one party is also relevant.
The Process for Submitting Evidence in California Family Court
Your lawyer will gather relevant evidence in your case and submit it to the court for review. At the same time, the opposing side receives copies of the evidence before the hearing. Witnesses can write down testimony about what they know or have observed through a declaration statement which is also provided to the judge with a copy served to the opposition. If your side fails to file and serve evidence before the hearing but presents it to the judge and the other side at the hearing, the judge may or may not allow the evidence considered in court.
Unlike criminal cases which must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” one side of a civil matter in family court needs only a “preponderance of the evidence” to prove their case and gain their desired outcome.