Court Proceedings
Summary in Divorce

Court proceedings include actions where a judge makes a decision -- a divorce decree, or modification of alimony or child support, or approval of a separation agreement.

Contested divorces that cannot be resolved end in trials where the spouses battle about the disputed issues.

Court proceedings, which include trials, hearings on merits and evidentiary hearings, follow rules and are conducted under rules of evidence.

In general in divorce trials, the routine begins with opening statements, then the petitioner or plaintiff presents evidence and testimony. The respondent or defendant, in turn, presents his or her case, evidence and testimony. This may be followed by the petitionerís or plaintiffís rebuttal and the respondentís or defendantís sur-rebuttal. In contested custody cases, a childís lawyer or custody evaluator may testify about the family situation. Both sides present their claims about disputed financial matters. In the end, both sides make closing arguments. During the stages of the trial, the lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant conduct direct, redirect, cross-examinations of witnesses as part of the presentation of the case and the defense against it. Cross-examination normally follows by the adverse party, and redirect examination follows by the party who first called the witness. These examinations -- direct, cross- and redirect -- are part of the process by which the court ascertains the facts.

Almost all divorce trials are bench trials, which means they are heard without a jury. When it is over, the case is under submission, which means after consideration the judge comes to a decision and judgment. Most divorce trials last a day or two. The costs associated with that "day in court" are eye popping.

Unlike other court actions, a divorce trial is probably the only form of litigation where the parties have at one time seen each other in bed. The parties understandably find it hard not to take things personally. This fact goes miles in explanation why divorce trials become so acrimonious and make virtually certain that the parties will develop a deep and abiding hatred of one another, which, in turn, makes divorced parenting, already a difficult undertaking, even more so. What Ben Franklin said about war -- that is, there never was a good war or a bad peace -- can be applied to divorce litigation. Good lawyers always advise a client that if it is at all possible, settle.

When it is all over, decisions are final and made with prejudice, but the peace that follows the divorce warfare of a trial can be as bad as the war.

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#592: When a court decides physical custody of a child, school options are playing a bigger and bigger role in the decision process. So if you are fighting for custody, make sure your school district has a good reputation.
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