In many cases, the terms of a divorce are settled out of court. This saves time and money, but it only works if both spouses are willing to make compromises. When they cannot resolve an issue—or several issues—the court will need to make decisions for them during hearings or at a full trial.
When parties have reached an agreement on terms for an uncontested divorce, they still have to appear in court. How do these types of court proceedings differ, and what should you expect from the process? The best source of information for these questions is your divorce attorney. However, here are some general guidelines.
What to Expect in Court
A hearing is not the same thing as a trial. In a hearing, a judge or master usually rules on one specific issue. Proceedings are generally less formal, although it is still important to respect the power and dignity of the court. A trial usually covers multiple issues, and it involves formalities such as opening and closing arguments.
Whether you are appearing for a hearing or a trial, you should follow rules of courtroom behavior. Avoid talking or making noise in the room, and don’t eat, drink, smoke or chew gum. Refer to the judge or master as “Your Honor.” Don’t interrupt anyone who is speaking, and don’t try to argue with the judge or master. Generally, all proceedings will be recorded in some format, and you will be sworn in before being asked to make statements to the court.
At a Hearing
Hearings are usually short, and they are scheduled back to back. It is important to answer questions completely, but briefly. Your hearing may be allocated no more than 10 minutes, so it is important to ensure there is enough time to cover the necessary information.
You can be guided by your attorney to prepare for the hearing. If you are representing yourself, you might want to prepare a statement containing the information you need to present, in case the judge does not ask all the necessary questions.
When a Divorce Goes to a Full Trial
Certain issues in a divorce may be settled by brief hearings. When proceedings move to a full trial, it will generally take up to a year to prepare. Both sides will exchange formal requests for information—this is known as conducting discovery. They may send written questions, ask you to answer questions during a sworn deposition, or ask for certain documents to be sent. During the preparation stages, both sides are gathering evidence and preparing their best arguments to present to the court. The attorneys will write out many of their arguments, and judges often pay more attention to the documents presented on paper than to oral arguments made in court.
During the trial, each lawyer will make an opening argument introducing their preferred version of the outcome. Then the lawyers will present evidence to support their requested outcomes. In addition to submitting documents, they might call witnesses such as a property appraiser or your child’s school counselor.
After each side has presented evidence, they have the chance to rebut the arguments raised by the other side, and may bring in additional evidence and witnesses. When this concludes, each side makes a closing argument summing up the points they want the judge to remember. If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of your children, the guardian may give a statement shortly before or after the closing arguments.
Then the judge reviews the evidence to make decisions. This could happen on the day of trial, or it could take weeks or months to issue a full decision.
An Experienced Attorney Protects Your Interests in Hearings and at Trial
When you work with an experienced legal advisor, you will be prepared for any hearings or trials necessary in your case. Even in a short hearing, the judge has the power to make determinations that have a profound impact on your future, so it is important to know how to raise the right issues and answer questions appropriately.
The team at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC is ready to help you reach your objectives in or out of court. Call us for a confidential consultation to learn more.