Not all divorces end in a trial. Often times, each spouse can work with their attorneys to negotiate a final property settlement agreement, and parenting plan if they have minor children, which settles all of the issues in the case. But, if you and your spouse cannot agree on important issues, like dividing important marital assets or determining who will have primary custody of the kids, you may need to litigate your case and have the judge decide.
Court can be a stressful or scary experience for some people. However, it doesn’t have to be if you are prepared and know what to expect.
STARTING THE TRIAL: OPENING ARGUMENTS
Opening arguments will be the first act of your divorce trial. This is the time when you and your spouse’s attorneys get to each of your stories, putting their own spin on the facts in a way favorable to your case and your spouse’s case, respectively. If you filed the divorce Complaint first, then you are the moving party or plaintiff and your attorney will give his or her opening argument first. If your spouse filed the Complaint first, then their attorney will go first.
In addition to presenting a picture of the case, your attorney will also tell the judge what the evidence will lead to and ask for specific relief on your behalf. Your spouse’s lawyer will do the same for him or her.
PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE
Following opening arguments, the plaintiff’s attorney gets to present the evidence in the plaintiff’s case. This includes calling witnesses to the stand to give testimony, as well as offering physical/documentary evidentiary exhibits. Some witnesses in a divorce case include expert witnesses such as a property appraiser who valued marital assets, or a school teacher of your child to help a judge determine best interest for the child. Physical and/or documentary evidence may include proof of joint bank accounts, property deeds, account statements, etc.
After the moving party’s attorney present’s their case, the defendant or respondent’s attorney will have the opportunity to put on their case by eliciting witness testimony and introducing and admitting evidentiary exhibits.
DISPROVING THE OTHER SIDE: REBUTTAL
After you and your spouse have presented your case to the judge, you will both have the opportunity for rebuttal. This is your attorney’s opportunity to poke holes in your spouse’s case, show why he or she is lying or should not be trusted, and/or demonstrate that your spouse’s argument(s) or evidence are flawed, impossible, incorrect or otherwise not credible.
Like presenting your case, your attorney (and your spouse’s attorney) can call witnesses and offer evidence during rebuttal. Similarly, the plaintiff’s lawyer presents their rebuttal case first.
Finally, after all rebuttal witnesses have testimony and evidence presented, each attorney will give their closing arguments. This is your lawyer’s final opportunity to summarize the evidence and make arguments in your favor explaining why the judge should give you the relief you are asking for.
If your case involves issues regarding your minor children and a guardian ad litem (GAL) has been appointed to represent their interests, then the GAL will give a brief argument and relate their findings concerning the children’s best interests to the court. The GAL may give their statements before or after the attorneys’ closing arguments, depending on what the judge prefers.
DELIBERATION & DECISION
Once closing arguments and the GAL report, if applicable, have been completed, the judge will deliberate, make factual findings and decide the issues in your case. The judge may review the evidence and transcript of the trial if, one exists, as well as consider the arguments made by you and your spouse’s attorneys when deliberating. Depending on the complexity of your case, number of issues and preference of the court, the judge may deliberate and decide right there, on-the-spot, or they could take hours, days, weeks or even months to issue their decision.
When the judge finally does figure out what he or she wants to do, they will issue both parties a divorce decree or final judgment of divorce. The judgment will resolve all the issues of property, asset and liability division, spousal support, child custody, timesharing and child support.
It is important that you and your now ex-spouse abide by the terms of the final judgment as it is an order of the court. Violation of the judgment can result in contempt of court, the payment of the other side’s attorney’s fees needed to enforce the judgment, and other sanctions.
Though appeals in family law decisions are very difficult, they can sometimes be necessary. If you would like to appeal, discuss the matter with your attorney. He or she will counsel you as to whether an appeal is a good idea. But, make sure to talk to your lawyer right away. In Virginia, your attorney must file a notice of appeal within thirty (30) days from the entry of your final judgment of divorce.
HIRE A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
If you are considering or currently going through a divorce, or have any other family law issue—whether or not you plan to go to trial—you should contact a knowledgeable family law attorney right away. The experienced family law attorneys at the DiPietro Family Law Group have decades of experience handling all types of family law matters and are here to help you.
Contact one of the DiPietro family law attorneys today to schedule a consultation with a caring professional at (888) 530-4374.