Divorce, Divorce Court, and Divorce Trial
April 24, 2009
Smiles are Optional
At Your Divorce Trial
Divorce Trial? Who does that?
Most family law cases settle long before a divorce trial, but in a small minority of cases, clients find themselves preparing for a trial in divorce court. You may think your case is too simple for a trial, but a divorce involves summing up all the lives of any given family. These issues can be complex, and if the family doesn’t agree on what is fair and equitable, much less the basic facts, there will have to be a trial.
What Happens During a Divorce Trial?
Divorce trials are heard by judges, not by juries. There may be short opening statements, although they are often waived. Various people will testify about the case, including the parties and experts (such as custody evaluators, real estate appraisers, actuaries, forensic accountants, and therapists). In some cases, friends, neighbors, relatives and teachers may be called to testify. Documents about your financial situation and any other issue will be given to the Judge to help him or her decide the issues in the case.
Once both parties have had the opportunity to present witnesses and exhibits to the Judge, the Court will ask for closing arguments. In family court, these are often done in writing in the form of proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree. This is where the attorneys summarize the case and ask the Court to decide a particular way.
What Doesn’t Happen During a Divorce Trial?
There is rarely an “Aha! I’ve got you!” moment. There will be cross-examination, but the Court is not impressed with courtroom theatrics. What might be a relevant admission to one spouse will probably not impress the Court. I have witnessed attorneys spend hours grilling a wife about the fact that her expenses will decrease when her children leave home in five or six years. Honestly, I think time might have been better spent talking about the wife’s current needs and the wife’s current income, since maintenance can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances. Similarly, Minnesota does have no-fault divorce, so testimony about infidelity and other misconduct are not relevant in the vast majority of cases.
A Winning Strategy for Divorce Court
The best strategy is to appear more reasonable than the other side. Logic and reason are valued by the legal profession (judges included), even in the midst of the difficult emotions presented in family court. Anger and hostility are understandable, but will not win a case. Smiles are optional – but they can help!
Moore Family Law, P.A.