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Understanding a Divorce Trial

QUESTION: WE CANNOT AGREE ON THE TERMS OF A DIVORCE SETTLEMENT, WHAT CAN I EXPECT AT TRIAL? ANSWER: NO ONE WILL BE HAPPY I have heard Judges say it a hundred times: “No one is happy after a trial.” You will be asking one person to make decisions about your life based upon hearing the facts of the case over the course of just a few hours. There are no juries in family law-- a judge makes all of the decisions. The judge will do his or her best to make fair decisions based upon all of the evidence heard at trial. However, your point of view is biased. A judge will try to view things objectively. This may mean the Judge agrees with you on some points and disagrees on others. Rarely does a person get everything they want out of trial. PROCEDURES OF TRIAL: Here is, generally, the process of the divorce trial:

  • The person who first filed the case, or Petitioner, will call their witnesses first. The Respondent's attorney will have the opportunity to question (cross-examine) each witness after they testify for the Petitioner.

  • The Respondent will then have the opportunity to call their witnesses to testify, and the Petitioner has the right to cross-examine.

  • The Petitioner may then call rebuttal witnesses.

  • The Respondent may then call rebuttal witnesses.

  • It is rare for parties to make an opening or closing statement at a family law trial.

  • Each party will have the ability to offer written documents for the Court to consider. One document that is traditionally offered is joint exhibit prepared by both parties cooperatively, listing all of property and debt, and how each party would like the Court to award that property.

  • Once the Court has heard all of the evidence, the Judge will issue a Judgment. Sometimes a judge may “rule from the bench.” This means the Judge tells the parties his or her decision immediately at the end of the trial before the parties leave the Court. More commonly, the Judge takes the matter “under advisement.” This means that the Court needs to think about the evidence and will issue a written Judgment at some later date.

by Ann R. Littell Mills

417 869-9888

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