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What Happens if a Divorce Goes to Trial?

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For a divorce to start, a spouse must file and serve a petition to initiate the lawsuit. There may be temporary hearings to help solve immediate issues until a settlement agreement is reached or a trial can determine a more permanent solution. Temporary Orders are often proposed and approved by the court to sort out temporary custody, bank and tax issues, as well as financial support.  After temporary orders are established, couples can try mediation or settlement conferences to reach agreements on the final terms of the divorce. These structured meetings are moderated by an impartial third party who uses negotiation tactics to help a couple come to a mutually-beneficial agreement. 

While the majority of divorce cases can be settled in mediation, it isn’t successful for everyone. Many couples cannot reach a compromise resolution without the help of a judge. If that is the case, a divorce trial is the last resort for people to resolve their differences. 

What is a Divorce Trial Like?

In a formal trial, you and your ex-spouse, usually with the help of an attorney, will present your case to a judge in a courtroom. The judge will consider the evidence presented by both sides and will make decisions about disputed matters like child custody, division of assets, and spousal support. 

Here’s what to expect from a divorce trial:

  • Petitioner presents their case: The Petitioner, who is the person who first filed for divorce, presents their case to the judge first. That includes witness testimony and other evidence such as documents regarding children, assets, and finances.
  • Respondent presents their case: Following the Petitioner, the other spouse, or Respondent, presents their side of the case and their supporting evidence to the court.
  • Witnesses testify: Each spouse will call witnesses to the stand to testify on their behalf. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, and teachers can all comment on either party’s strengths or weaknesses. Afterward, each party has an opportunity to cross-examine the others’ witnesses.
  • Petitioner’s refutation: The Petitioner has a chance to rebut the Respondent’s presentation.
  • Closing statements: After all of the information, documents, and testimonies have been presented, both parties’ attorneys will recap the evidence that was presented throughout the trial, while advocating for their client’s position.
  • The decision: The judge will make their ruling and provide details about each aspect of the divorce. Parties will sign an official document, which concludes the trial and finalizes the divorce. 

Divorce Trial Checklist

If you expect you are on the road to a divorce trial, here are things you can do ahead of time to prepare and set you on a path towards a positive outcome.

1. Gather the Necessary Documents 

Your attorney and the judge will require income records, tax returns and other financial documents from the prior several years, information about the children’s education and living conditions, any documents pertaining to owned property, debts owed, and other information relating to the substance of the issues the two parties do not agree on. Not everyone has this information handily accessible, but don’t wait until the last minute to locate important documents. Strengthen your case by gathering all necessary papers ahead of time and be fully prepared to provide the paperwork requested. 

2. Remain Calm 

Decisions in the courtroom can be impacted by your overall demeanor and state of mind. During a divorce, you are under added stress and emotions run high. Regardless, it’s important to remain calm. Keep your feelings under control, don’t allow yourself to appear agitated, and refrain from emotional outbursts. 

3. Prepare with your Attorney 

Meet with your attorney to discuss in detail what to anticipate throughout the trial. Find out what paperwork you need to complete, what documents to provide, and what you should or shouldn’t say in the courtroom. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel and the better impression you’ll make.

4. Understand Common Misconceptions 

There are many misconceptions surrounding divorce trials. For instance, outside conversations usually cannot be used as testimony. Since they didn’t occur under oath, they’re considered “hearsay” and are not admissible as evidence in court. Additionally, fault and blame are not a deciding factor in awarding favor in Washington State.

Expect the unexpected, especially with the current pandemic restrictions. Trials and many other court proceedings are actually being conducted in new and unorthodox ways, such as by Zoom.     

Get the Representation You Deserve

If you’re a man in Washington state preparing for a divorce or looking for legal representation, Divorce Lawyers for Men can help. Our experienced team of family law attorneys recognizes the challenges men face during a divorce. We can assist you in navigating the legal road ahead. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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