What Happens If Your Divorce Case Goes to Trial?
Jun 23, 2017 | Written by: Share|
The goal of every person getting divorced should be to settle the case as quickly, painlessly and inexpensively as possible. There are many ways to settle a divorce case, including through the collaborative divorce process and mediation. There are also certain events within the court system that are designed to help settle a case that is in the litigation process. Although rare, unfortunately there are some cases that require a trial. If you find yourself in that situation, what can you expect and how can you prepare for a trial as a divorce litigant?
Trials in divorce matters are very stressful. They are what is called a “bench” trial, which means a judge sits as the trier of fact and makes the decisions…there is no jury. Unlike jury trials, trials in family law matters are not tried continuously. The judge will fit time in whenever possible, but divorce trials are typically spread out over the course of weeks or months. Unfortunately, this process adds to both the stress of the parties and the expense for attorney’s fees. Typically, cases that proceed to trial are those where one side, or both, are being unreasonable in their position.
To prepare for a trial, you should listen to your attorney’s advice. As the litigant, you may need to obtain and organize documents to help your attorney and to save on attorney’s fees. The Case Information Statement is an important document with regard to financial issues, and you should make sure to be as accurate as possible with this document. The Case Information Statement is often used as the basis for both direct examination questions and cross-examination questions of a party at the time of trial.
In collaboration with clients, attorneys will often prepare their direct examination questions in advance. You should make sure to review the questions, know the answers to the questions, and ask your attorney for advice if there is any confusion on how to answer a question. While the testimony should not be entirely scripted, it is important to be aware of what your attorney will ask and have at least an idea of how you will answer those questions. Direct examination questions are open-ended and allow you to tell your story. Your “story” should be focused on the relevant factors pertaining to the issue (for example, the statutory alimony factors if alimony is an issue).
During a trial, you will also be subject to cross-examination by the other attorney. These questions will call for a specific answer, usually a yes or no. For example, “you stopped depositing your paycheck into the joint account on June 1, 2017, didn’t you?” Your attorney can help you anticipate and prepare for cross-examination questions. It is important to listen to each question, understand what is being asked, and answer that specific question. A party who avoids answering questions, or provides an answer to a question not asked, will seem evasive and may lose credibility with the judge.
While each party may have a different view of the facts, it is important to be truthful, to avoid exaggeration and to answer all the questions. Your attorney will help you deal with facts that are not favorable to your case, and try to minimize the damage. In addition, after cross-examination questions, your attorney can ask you re-direct questions. This can help you to provide details regarding your “yes or no” answers from the cross-examination questions. When testifying, it is important to provide specific details whenever possible, as it lends credibility to your position.
You know what has happened in your marriage, and you can provide your attorney with details to help craft direct examination questions for yourself, as well as to help create cross-examination questions for the other party. While the other party is testifying, you should take notes and advise your attorney (after the direct examination of the other party) of any contradictions or follow-up questions that should be asked on cross-examination. You and your attorney are a team during the trial, and the more help you provide to your attorney, the more you will help your case.
While a trial in a divorce case is not a pleasant experience for either party, sometimes it is inevitable. To be successful during a trial, listen to your attorney and spend sufficient time helping him or her to prepare in advance of trial. And remember…although you can present the facts in the best light possible for your position during a trial, ultimately, you cannot change the facts. The judge will determine the credibility of each party and the facts of the case. The judge will apply the law to the facts when making a decision.
While I hope you will never have to experience a divorce trial as a litigant, always follow the Boy Scout motto and “be prepared.”
If you want to find out more about resolving or litigating your divorce case, please contact me.
William J. Rudnik, Esq. is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. He is also qualified as a Mediator in the field of Family Law under the New Jersey Court rules, and he is trained in Collaborative Divorce. Contact Mr. Rudnik at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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