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When Your Divorce Goes to Court

By Debra Schoenberg

The divorce process is difficult in different ways for every separating couple. It’s estimated that 95% of all divorces end in a settlement agreement but for unusually contentious or financially complex divorces, the only way to resolve these disputes is by going to court.

The prospect of a court proceeding can induce anxiety and stress. This may be the first time in your life that you’ve ever been inside a courtroom. It’s important to feel prepared by knowing what to expect and remember that with every court appearance, you are one step closer to finalizing your divorce and beginning a new chapter in your life.

Court Dates: It’s important to keep track of court dates as soon as you receive a notice from your attorney. Make sure to confirm you can attend and find out from your attorney what is on the agenda for example, whether the judge will be listening to witness testimony, reading declarations or just listening to the lawyers’ arguments. The number of court hearings depends on the complexity of your divorce. If you can’t reach an agreement, then you may appear in court more frequently on various issues.

Temporary Hearing: The procedure can vary depending on the county where you filed your case, the presiding judge or the issues presented in your court filing. Courts usually request attorneys to meet and discuss whether the parties can resolve their sticking points before the court hears the matter. Your hearing is likely scheduled at the same time as several other hearings that day. You may find yourself in a courtroom with many other lawyers and their clients. During the hearing, the judge may ask you questions.

Courtroom Etiquette: It’s important to respect the dress code in court. Avoid overly casual clothes, lots of jewelry, revealing attire and extreme hairstyles. You’re not allowed to bring food or drinks into the courtroom. Don’t chew gum. Stand up whenever the judge is entering or leaving the courtroom. Don’t talk inside the courtroom unless you’re on the witness stand or the judge asks you a question. If you need to discuss something with your attorney, go outside.

Make sure to silence your cell phone or any electronic devices.

Preparing for Trial: Presenting your case at trial requires extensive preparation and countless tasks that your attorney will handle. That preparation includes developing arguments for each of the contested issues, researching and reviewing relevant law in your case and reviewing the facts of your case to determine which witnesses are best suited to testify. Your attorney may need to retain expert witnesses and depose them before trial. They will also need to prepare opening statements and closing arguments.

Day of Trial: No two trials are ever the same but there are the typical steps that happen in most divorce trials. The attorneys will meet with the judge in chambers to discuss procedural issues which include the number of witnesses called and how long it will take to present the case. The attorneys will then give opening statements. Each side will call witnesses and the other side (petitioner/respondent) attorney has an opportunity to cross-examine each witness. The petitioner’s attorney may call rebuttal witnesses and the respondent’s attorney may call any sur-rebuttal witnesses. Then closing arguments are made.

Judge’s Ruling: It’s unlikely the court will make an immediate ruling after a trial. Often a judge has so much information from the trial to consider it is not possible to render judgment the day closing arguments conclude. To thoughtfully consider your case, it can take days, weeks or in some cases even longer before a ruling is made. The judge may want to review the law, documents, notes or perform calculations. The experienced lawyers at Schoenberg Family Law Group have assisted many clients who have gone down the divorce court path and can offer advice on how to get the best result from a particular judge.

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