If your divorce has been taken to court, you may be wondering what to expect out of your divorce trial. Learn expert lawyer tips here.
Divorces determine your future. Nearly 750,000 divorces occurred in the United States in 2019. Though difficult, they gave couples the closure they needed to live productive lives.
Every divorce is different. Many do not require court appearances or even lawyers. But some of them do, and it’s important to understand the divorce trial process.
What are the first steps in the process? How should you prepare for a trial? What is the actual trial like, and what happens afterward?
Answer these questions and you can get the judgment that you deserve. Here is your quick guide.
Mediation and Settlements
Mediation is the first step toward a divorce trial. It involves the two parties in a divorce sitting down with an impartial mediator to work over their conflict. Each party can have their lawyer present if they desire.
Though mediation has helped many couples find a settlement, it is not always ideal. A person who experienced domestic violence can go straight to a divorce trial. If one party has moved to another part of the country, mediation is also not a great solution.
Mediation does not have to produce a complete settlement. You can work out some arrangements with your ex and leave the rest to a judge. You can divide your financial assets and then work out child custody in court.
If mediation does not work, your divorce case can go to divorce court. You or your ex must file with the court. The filing must contain an explicit request asking that the marriage be dissolved with relief granted.
It is very important to file for divorce first. This gives you a chance to frame the debate, getting ahead of your ex on matters related to custody and child support.
The other side must receive notification of the case. They may receive only the initial document, or they may receive more complete papers. They then must respond in writing to the accusations.
Once the judge has received the response, they will schedule a court hearing. They will hear from both sides and determine how the process will proceed.
You may need to go to several hearings. These allow you to make arrangements while the divorce is being finalized. They cover child custody, living arrangements, and financial matters like child support.
It is very important that you attend each of these hearings. You can schedule them for times that are convenient to you. You can bring a lawyer with you to each one.
Your lawyer will speak for you and can represent your interests. There are few preparations that you need to make. But avoiding one can reduce your credibility in the eyes of the judge.
How to Prepare for a Divorce Trial
Divorces that go to trial take an average of 18 months to resolve. When you are facing a divorce trial, you should prepare for the long term. To do so, you need to make several different kinds of preparations.
Divorce lawyers are trained and experienced professionals. If you did not hire one before, you need to hire one before you go to trial. This is especially important for complex situations involving people with high incomes.
They will do a lot of the work you need to argue your side in court. But you do need to assist them.
In order to divide financial assets, the judge needs documentation. Go to your financial advisor or accountant and get your records. Bank statements, pay stubs, and property deeds are best.
Draft a financial affidavit soon after your case begins. Prepare a second one right before your trial starts. This gives the judge a good sense of your financial picture.
You need to find witnesses who can speak to your side. This is very important for technical matters, like valuing a house.
Witnesses can include friends and relatives who can speak to your good character. You can also find witnesses who speak to your ex’s bad character. This is essential if you do not want full custody of your children.
It can be very difficult to ask friends to testify on your behalf. They may feel caught between you and your spouse. Touch base with them and have a good conversation over what they can expect.
Your ex’s team will have access to the sources you find, and your team will have access to their sources. Keep this in mind as you are preparing evidence and adjust your strategy.
Divorce can be extremely difficult to go through. A study from Oklahoma State University even likened divorce to the grieving process.
You will experience intense emotions as you separate from your ex. You may feel physical symptoms like nausea or stomach pain. You may have trouble sleeping or focusing on work.
If these feelings become intense, talk to someone about them. You can turn to a friend or relative. If they don’t help, find a psychiatrist.
Don’t spend too much time focusing on your divorce. Give yourself opportunities to think and take care of yourself.
Work out living arrangements with your ex and follow through on them right away. If you don’t want to talk to your ex directly, you don’t have to. It can be helpful to avoid them in the initial months after your separation.
Your children may be very upset over what is going on. This is the case with teenagers and adult children.
If possible, you should announce your separation alongside your ex. Affirm your children and tell them that both of their parents will be involved in their lives. Each of you should spend time with them while avoiding any conversation about the divorce.
It is important that your children have opportunities to express their thoughts. Having them testify is one way of doing that.
But children find testifying very difficult, especially when talking about family problems. You should only allow your children to testify if they are older. Even then, they should rehearse what they will say with your lawyer.
What Happens in a Divorce Trial
The trial begins with opening statements. Lawyers for each side present their case to the judge. They can present specific pieces of evidence and outline what their overall narrative will be.
Following opening statements, witnesses get called to the stand. The spouse who filed the initial petition gets to call witnesses first. Their lawyer asks questions to them to elicit important information.
The lawyers for the other spouse get to go next. They ask questions to undermine the witnesses’ credibility or uncover other important facts.
The process can take several hours. Lawyers can object to certain questions they regard as misleading. The judge can also ask to speak with the lawyers in a sidebar.
When all witnesses have been called, closing statements are presented. The attorneys explain to the judge what the facts are and how they relate to local laws. They encourage the judge to pursue a particular outcome.
The court records of divorce trials are public documents. The trials themselves are open proceedings that members of the public can attend. There are limited circumstances that can provide confidentiality, namely for survivors of abuse or sexual assault.
What to Do Afterward
It may take some time for a judge to come to a decision. Be patient. Judges take divorce very seriously, so they try to be as deliberate as possible.
The judge may ask for the attorneys on both sides to propose final judgments. The proposals should be specific, touching upon all relevant issues. If a judge is leaning toward one side, they may use the proposal as the basis for their decision.
You can appeal if you feel the judge made an incorrect ruling or violated your rights. But most decisions are final.
Once the judge has laid out their decision, you need to carry their terms out. You must divide financial assets and carry out child custody arrangements.
Keep your lawyer’s contact information with you. You can change your divorce arrangements, but you have to go through legal channels to do so.
Get Strong Legal Counsel
Get the facts before you start your divorce trial. Mediation may help you reach a settlement. Try it with your ex.
If it doesn’t work, file for divorce as soon as possible. Engage in the court hearings that follow.
Prepare financial documents and witnesses with legal help. You should also prepare yourself and your children for the draining process.
A trial involves presenting documents and hearing witnesses. The judge will then reach a judgment. Follow the exact terms.
Find a lawyer who can guide you through every step. Scott M. Brown & Associates serves the Houston area. Contact us today.