What Happens in a Divorce Trial?

Any divorce matter may be resolved before trial with the parties reaching an agreement on the issues. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement on all issues, those issues that remain disputed would go to trial. That means, you can resolve portions of your case and save some time and money associated with a trial and try only those issues that remain disputed.

Some states allow for juries, many others do not. It depends greatly on your State. Jury trails are not the norm. However, when they do occur, the issues ripe for a determination by a jury may include:

• asset value,
• child custody,
• fraud, cruel treatment, and fault related issues

If a trial is required, whether it is a jury trial or a trial to the court, it lasts as long as there is evidence to present. There is no standard timeline. For simple cases, it may take a day. For more complex cases, longer.

If there is a jury, the first half of the first day will be spent impaneling the jury through a process called Voir Dire. In that process, each party, through their counsel, may inquire of the jury to determine potential bias and strike jurors from the jury pool that display bias. Each party also usually has what are called preemptory challenges which allow them to strike a juror for no stated reason.. the number of preemptory challenges varies from state to state.

After the jury is impaneled, the petitioner/plaintiff makes an opening statement summarizing the evidence they will present and what they believe it will prove. The respondent/defendant can also make an opening statement or reserve it until they start their case in chief. A case in chief is started when a party begins calling their own witnesses.

The Plaintiff commences their case by calling witnesses and presenting evidence. The defendant, through counsel, may cross examine and challenge evidence. When the Plaintiff finishes with their last witness, they rest.

The defendant than may start by making their opening statement if they reserved it, or by begin by calling their witnesses and presenting their own evidence. The roles are no reversed and the Plaintiff may cross examine witnesses called by the respondent/defendant and by making evidentiary challenges to any documentary evidence offered. When all witnesses have been called, the defendant rests.

Each party may usually make a closing argument. In some states and in some cases, the court may allow that argument to be made in writing in the form of a brief. This most often occurs in trials to the Court and not a jury.

After closing arguments, the Judge will read jury instructions (the rules of the case) to tell the jury the presumptions of law and burdens of proof that apply and how they should look at the evidence. Only then does the jury retire to deliberate.

If there is no jury, everything is the same except the jury selection and reading the jury instructions and occasionally, opening arguments are waived.

If it is a trial to the Court, you may wait while the Judge takes the matter under advisement,. An order may take quite awhile depending on state rules. In some states, it is as long as 90 days from the last submission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maury D. Beaulier
Maury D. Beaulier is a recognized leader in divorce and family law. He is a sought after speaker and has appeared on National programs on a myriad of family law and father’s rights issues.

Copyright Maury D. Beaulier, Attorney at Law
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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