When it comes to your divorce, walking into the court room may be the most intimidating part of the whole procedure, for someone who has never been there before. The fear of the unexpected in a final divorce trial can keep people up at night. Being prepared can help your case go a lot smoother and ultimately in your favor so it is best to know what you will be walking into on your trial date. Much of a divorce proceeding can also be applied to other family law proceedings as well.
A typical a final divorce trial will almost always take place in front of a judge. In the state of Pennsylvania, a lower level divorce proceeding will be a bench trial and cannot be held in front of a jury. Your divorce hearing if it goes to trial and you do not settle will ultimately be determined by a judge.
A family law final divorce trial can be broken up into five parts, the first stage is the opening statements, the second is the presentation of evidence by the petitioner or plaintiff, third is presentation of evidence by the respondent or defendant, forth are the closing arguments, and finally the fifth stage is the ruling. Sometimes you will have a point in the trial where the plaintiff can present rebuttal evidence, and this would occur between the evidence presented by the defendant and the closing arguments.
The first stage, the opening arguments, are incredibly important. The opening statement is merely a blanket statement of what you believe the facts are. This is not a time to be argumentative and start calling out the other party on how you believe they are wrong. What needs to be done during this statement is lay out the facts that have already been agreed upon, you then tell the court where there are disputes and the general idea of where your opinion lies on those disputes. This stage is incredibly important because you lay out the items that you want the judge to look out for during the trial.
The next phase is the most important step in the trial. During the second and third stage of the trial the plaintiff and defendant plead their case. This is where both parties will present their evidence and will examine witnesses. During a direct examination the plaintiff or defendant will ask witnesses they call to the stand questions. They will use these questions to prove facts of their case by getting the witness to answer their questions with facts and statements that prove their arguments. However, you must ask open ended questions and they cannot be leading. You cannot ask a witness a direct question that forces them to answer yes or no. Opposing council will object to questions phrased in a leading manner and they will not go on the record.
The rule of thumb is to provide the court with one fact per question. You don’t want to ask a question that has too many parts. When questioning make sure you take it one step at a time. For example, during questioning you ask someone “Did you go out that night, did you crash your car, and come home and get into an altercation with your wife?” The best way to ask this is in three separate parts. Break each part up into its own question and walk the court through the situation with those individual questions.
Finally, the closing argument is the last phase that the defendant really takes part in as the last stage is just the ruling being issued by the judge. In the closing argument you need to tie everything together. This is where you wrap up all the evidence that you have presented before the court and you give a summation as to how that plays into your side of the case. This is where you mention to the judge one last time what you want before they issue their ruling.
A final divorce trial can be very time consuming and difficult to handle on your own. While this article lays out what to expect and with some preparation it can be handled on your own, seeking legal counsel can make the procedure go much smoother and in your favor. It is highly recommended that you seek an attorney to help you take on your divorce or other family law matters, because it can make the difference in your case. While you may be able to handle the situation alone, our attorneys at The Law Offices of Michael Kuldiner, P.C. have experience in this field and know exactly how to handle the situation.