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When Your Divorce Is Going To Trial—What To Know And How To Prepare

Even in the best circumstances, divorce is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It’s challenging and emotional to sort through thorny issues like custody, support, and division of assets when there’s already much strain between spouses.

Yet only about 5% of divorces end up going to trial.

Litigation is stressful, costly, time-consuming, and (except under exceptional circumstances) much less private than settling out of court. It’s usually the last-resort last step in an already long, arduous divorce process.

If you can find a way to work together to reach a fair settlement in good faith, it’s generally preferable to do so.

But sometimes, either because a couple absolutely cannot cooperate or because one spouse is genuinely unreasonable, it is necessary to let a judge decide critical issues.

It may also be possible to reach a partial settlement through mediation and reduce the number of issues to be addressed in court.

If your case is going to trial, you will most likely attend several hearings leading up to it. In these brief sessions, the judge will get to know your case and make temporary decisions before you go to trial.

There are several essential steps to help you reach the best possible outcome and minimize the stress and emotional toll in preparation for your trial.

Meet with your lawyer.

It is vital to work with an experienced divorce attorney. Together you’ll work out a strategy, gather evidence, and prepare your witness list. You’ll learn how to testify, preparing for the types of questions you’ll be asked by your attorney, the judge, and under cross-examination by your spouse’s lawyer. You’ll discuss what you should and should not say, what is admissible in court, how much to reveal. You’ll probably role-play and rehearse your answers. Solid preparation will help you stay calm and feel as comfortable and confident as possible when on the stand.

Gather paperwork and financial documents well ahead of time. You don’t want to be in a stressed-out scramble the day before the trial or realize last minute that something is missing. Your lawyer will help you plan what papers you’ll need (tax returns, bank/credit card statements, proof of income, property and mortgage documents, childcare bills, and more) and help you find any necessary financial experts.

Keep your feelings under control.

A divorce trial is full of emotional landmines. You’ll want to keep your emotions in check for your stress level and credibility with the judge. Venting in the courtroom will not help your case. Instead it will make you appear unreasonable or irrational. Practice and preparation will help you stay composed under pressure.

Don’t obsess—take care of yourself and get the personal support you need. Preparation is important, but don’t let it become all-consuming. It’s easy to get caught up in ruminating on it all the time, playing out scenarios in your head.

Take a step back.

Make sure to practice self-care (whatever that means for you), for example: Get exercise, have an enjoyable night out with family or friends, play with your kids, find quiet time alone, or relax with a good book. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, angry, and emotional, reach out to a therapist who specializes in helping people get through divorce.

Stay open to settling—it is still an option.

Even once the trial is underway, right up until the end, when the judge gives a final decision, you can decide to work together to come up with a reasonable agreement. Your attorney, or your spouse’s, can offer a settlement at any time. Discuss it thoroughly with your lawyer to ensure it’s fair, balanced, and acceptable to you. Don’t agree to terms that aren’t in your best interest to avoid a trial—you can get through this.

An experienced family law attorney at SFLG will help your divorce trial go more smoothly and can take some of the emotional burdens off your shoulders. Our San Francisco law practice is staffed with trial lawyers who litigate high-conflict, high-stakes cases. While we try to build on mediation efforts and exhaust opportunities for a negotiated agreement, emotions, egos, and other realities often force these disputes into court. It is critical to work with a firm that knows how to apply the law and the facts in your favor, whether in the courtroom or at the negotiating table.