“Love, the quest; marriage, the conquest; divorce, the inquest.”Helen Rowland
Going to trial for your divorce is costly, time consuming, and best avoided if possible. Most divorces don’t end up going to trial, but if, for whatever reason, you find yourself facing court, it is important to be prepared. Don’t rely solely on your counsel; be diligent and proactive in your personal trial preparation, strategy, and execution.
A single judge typically presides over the trial, which will be at the courthouse. The trial will begin with each attorney making an opening statement based on the evidence to be presented and will end with closing statements that summarize the facts presented and contend for a favorable judgement. During the trial, you and your spouse will each have the opportunity to make your case through testimony, witnesses, and documents presented as “exhibits.” The spouse who initiated the case is called the plaintiff, and presents their case first. The defendant then has a chance to respond. Testimony on each side is subject to cross-examination by the opposing legal team.
“It felt like my first attorney made the legal process intentionally complicated. I was vulnerable and put myself in the trust of my attorney who I assumed had my best interests in mind. Once he canceled one of our court dates due to a conflict with one of his other clients, I realized his priorities were costing me money and I had to fire him. I should have seen this earlier, when I first saw other indicators he was a poor fit. For instance, he didn’t even believe some of the facts of my side of the case. I had so little energy to do research on how to choose a lawyer, not to mention about what was going to happen in court. I ended up paying dearly for not interviewing a few attorneys first and going with one I really felt had my best interests at heart. I felt trapped. I ended up with several sleepless nights because of the conflicts with my attorney, in addition to the conflicts with my ex! Wish I had been more prepared.”
Knowing where to go, what to wear, and how to act can help settle any nerves you may feel on the day of the trial. You will likely have been to the courthouse or courtroom during pre-trial proceedings, but if not, make sure you know exactly where to go. Plan to arrive early, making sure to leave enough time for possible delays like traffic, finding parking, and going through security. Bring any notes or evidence you will need that were not submitted ahead of time.
You should dress business casual, like you would for a job interview. First impressions matter, so avoid wearing blue jeans, shorts, flip-flops, revealing or skin-tight clothing, and hats or sunglasses. Court is not the place for wild fashion statements; aim for clean and conservative. For men, wear a collared shirt, sports jacket, or suit. For women, wear a dress, skirt, or pantsuit. Dressing appropriately shows respect for the court and influences your credibility, helping your voice to be heard.
Preparation of your testimony is key to a successful case in court. How you present the facts will influence the outcome of your divorce. Above all, be formal and respectful, and in control of your emotions. As you are being questioned, make sure you understand the question being asked, and ask for clarification if needed. Be direct when answering, not passive aggressive. Follow these tips for testifying:
- If you don’t remember something, be honest about it.
- Try not to use absolute words such as “never” and “none” or “all” and “always.”
- Don’t volunteer information. Keep your answers short and to the point, especially with yes or no questions.
- Do not try to justify your conduct.
- If you are asked a compound question—two questions in one—answer each separately.
- Watch out for questions based on false assumptions. Respond by saying, “that conclusion is not correct,” and wait for the lawyer to ask you to explain.
You may need to wait some time for a final ruling from the judge. If the judge needs to review the evidence, it can be weeks before the judge makes a final decision on the disputed issues. Once they do, your attorneys will write up a judgement for dissolution or decree of divorce, which settles the legal dissolution of the marriage.
If you haven’t already, visit your local courthouse and find out exactly where your trial will be held so you know where to park and what to expect on the day of the trial. If you can, sit in on a few trials so you can get a feel for the trial procedures. Pick out the outfit you will wear and practice going over the facts of your case in a clear and concise way with a trusted friend or family member.