The long and short of affidavits

My heart goes out to five-year-old Keryan Gabriel Cedric Graffart, who might still be alive if his father had not become affected by his mother's affidavit filed in custody proceedings ("Belgian gets 5 years' jail for killing son"; Aug 23).

Affidavits are sworn statements filed by parents to give their version of facts in court.

It is treated as evidence by the court, which would then consider, give due weight and make orders in hearings.

So parents would want the court to know everything and would pour out the facts and their feelings into the affidavits, which can run into hundreds of pages.

In custody battles, parents may also obtain affidavits from their relatives, neighbours, school teachers, friends and even domestic helpers.

Affidavits are not biographies. Lawyers should advise their clients on what evidence is relevant.

In custody battles, the main issue is which parent the child lives with and is being cared for by.

Numerous witness affidavits do not help a parent to obtain care and control of a child.

Furthermore, it is not possible for the court to read all the documents in just one hearing.

Affidavits ought to be short, precise and deal with the salient points only.

There are rules in the family court judicial process limiting the number of reply affidavits a party can file.

The court can go further by prescribing the precise evidence it requires, limiting the length of affidavits, managing the number of witness affidavits a party can file, and deciding on the necessity of such documents during the case conferences in the Family Justice Courts.

Experiencing a whole range of negative feelings after reading the other party's affidavits is common. It takes time for the client to recover from the shock and anger.

I have clients who tell me that their spouse threatened to kill their children or commit suicide with them.

Often, these are only threats. But, like child abuse complaints, they ought to be reported and investigated with care.

Action needs to be taken to protect our children and preserve family units.

Rajan Chettiar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'The long and short of affidavits'. Print Edition | Subscribe