Sharon steps into the room. It is silent. Always so quiet in the courtroom. Her heels clack against the tile as she steps purposefully toward the front of the room.
She is an expert witness. She's been called to testify regarding the custody of two Bard children: Mary 9 and Sam 7.
She tries to tune out her own walk as she steps toward the stand. Feels her feet begin to sweat and realizes she's forgotten to wear nylons. Her grandmother calls her a trollop somewhere in the back of her mind and she almost lets a laugh escape. The distraction is helpful and calms her with a little perspective and levity she needed just then, even if it is from her own imagination.
She situates herself in her chair and the attorney's pacing and attention to detail is impeccable. It helps. She is an "expert," but not a professional "expert." There is a difference. Anyone with enough training or information on a particular topic can be qualified as an expert witness by presenting credentials and having the discussion with judge and opposing council. Then there are witnesses that accept a fee and testify regularly on specific topics. Sharon has been called to testify in this custody hearing because she supervises the visits between the Bard children and their father.
Council has told her just to be honest and answer the question that is asked. The message that she is not on trial here has nearly implanted into her mind. Still, it somehow feels like she herself is the one being scrutinized, so she reminds herself of the advice.
She states her name and her qualifications. A lengthy discussion ensues about trainings she's attended, the number of families she's worked with, the type of experiences she's had. Finally, without objection, she is qualified as an expert and therefore permitted to render an opinion on evidence in the family court case.
Did she know Mr. Bard had been arrested on multiple occasions for domestic violence. Had she ever had an violent episodes with the man. Had his behavior during supervised visits been a concern. What were his interactions with his children like.
She's honest. She talks about the stilted beginnings of visits. She clarifies that this is not abnormal. She talks about times when Mr. Bard has taken advice about providing activities or healthy snacks and that he keeps the visits centered on his children and not their mother who is shrinking by the moment into her shriveling skin.
Sharon doesn't know the mother well. She brings the kids to visits and picks them up afterwards. There is no overlap between the mother and father due to a restraining order so she's never seen the mother in the presence of the father. She doesn't look up to the task. She is certain this woman could not protect these children from him. Yet, her testimony will likely make her responsible for just that.
Sharon testifies that the children are not afraid of their father. She says that he has been appropriate during supervised visits and that she is prepared to recommend unsupervised visits with a neutral party arranging transfer of the children.
The mother's eyes get glassy and teardrops plop onto her suit. She is afraid for her children. Sharon recognizes this and will even tell the judge if she is asked about how victims may not be able to stand up to their abusers for years and so even though she is recommending unsupervised visits, a second check in with the courts would be advisable or ongoing therapy for the children to provide a support for them during the transition. But no one asks.
The problem with being the expert, is that you have the information about what should be asked, but aren't always the ones asking.