divorce trial

What To expect In a Divorce Trial?

When Does Divorce Go to Trial?

A divorce trial is set when the parties involved in a divorce fail to resolve their disputes through settlement discussions. Generally, a trial is scheduled only after every other avenue, such as a Settlement Conference, has been exhausted. Although one or both spouses can request a trial, there are instances when the judge may independently decide to set a trial date, even if neither spouse has specifically requested one.

Sometimes, the court might find it beneficial to isolate and resolve specific aspects of the divorce separately—this is known as bifurcation. A common issue often bifurcated is the determination of the separation date. Once the court resolves this, it tends to simplify the resolution of other contentious matters like division of assets and debts. Bifurcation can expedite the overall process and reduce costs, so if your case might benefit from this approach, consider requesting a bifurcated trial from the judge.

How can I Avoid a Divorce Trial?

If you are unable to settle your divorce outside of court, proceeding to a divorce trial becomes inevitable. While you may manage to delay the trial date temporarily, ultimately, the court will schedule one. It is crucial to prepare for this possibility as early as possible.

How Long Will My Divorce Trial Last?

During pre-trial preparations, one of the key details the judge will need is an estimate of the trial’s duration. This estimation is not just about calendar days; it involves a more nuanced understanding of how court time is managed. Typically, a half-day in court spans two to three hours, while a full day consists of about six hours. When estimating the length of your trial, consider the number of witnesses, the complexity of the issues at hand, and the volume of exhibits for the judge to review. It’s advisable to slightly overestimate the time you might need. Underestimating can lead to unfinished proceedings, possibly causing a mistrial or further delays with rescheduling.

Is a Divorce Trial Decided by a Jury?

No. Divorce trials are almost exclusively bench trials, which means they are decided by a judge rather than a jury.

Does a Divorce Trial Have Witnesses?

Yes.  Technically, the individuals getting divorced are considered witnesses since both spouses will testify. In addition, a divorce trial allows for two other types of witnesses: Lay Witnesses and Expert Witnesses.

A lay witness is usually someone who does not provide expert testimony in a specific area. These witnesses offer firsthand accounts of events or situations they’ve personally observed or experienced. Their testimonies can be pivotal, influencing the court’s decisions on key issues like custody arrangements, the division of property, and spousal support.

Lay Witnesses

Lay witnesses are individuals who are not providing specialized expert testimony but are instead offering evidence based on their personal observations and experiences. Their role is critical as they can provide insights that potentially sway the court’s decisions on various aspects such as child custody, asset division, and alimony.

Scope of Testimony for Lay Witnesses

Lay witnesses contribute by sharing their direct observations or their involvement in events relevant to the case. Their testimonies might encompass:

  • Personal observations of each party’s behavior.
  • Interactions among family members they have witnessed.
  • Knowledge of financial matters they are directly aware of.
  • Any additional observations pertinent to the divorce, such as the living conditions of children involved.

Relevance and Admissibility of Testimony

The admissibility of a lay witness’s testimony is contingent upon its relevance to the divorce issues at hand. The court determines whether the testimony is sufficiently related to critical decision-making aspects like child custody arrangements, property division, and the calculations of alimony and child support.

Credibility of Lay Witnesses

The credibility of lay witnesses is crucial and is subject to scrutiny through cross-examination by the opposing party. This process is vital as it helps ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of the information presented to the court.

Preparation of Lay Witnesses

Proper preparation of lay witnesses is essential. They should be well-informed about the extent of their testimony, understand the courtroom layout, and be familiar with the overall procedure of presenting evidence. It is advisable for individuals to work closely with their legal representatives to adequately prepare their witnesses for trial.

Limitations on Testimony

The court may impose limitations on the number of witnesses or the length of their testimonies to prevent redundancy and to maintain the efficiency of the trial proceedings. Moreover, lay witnesses are restricted from offering opinions that require specialized knowledge, such as psychological evaluations or the valuation of complex assets, which are reserved for expert witnesses.

Direct and Cross-Examination of Lay Witnesses

During the trial, lay witnesses will undergo direct examination by the party that called them and may then be cross-examined by the opposing party. This process is crucial for establishing the facts and evaluating the relevance and truthfulness of the testimonies provided.

Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses are professionals in specific fields who provide specialized knowledge crucial for resolving complex issues in divorce trials, such as business valuations, property appraisals, and child custody evaluations. These experts deliver a depth of analysis and detail that aids in achieving fair and equitable resolutions in intricate cases. The court may either appoint neutral experts, known as “730 Experts,” or the parties may hire their own experts to bolster their positions.

Qualification of Expert Witnesses

Experts are required to demonstrate their expertise through their education, training, and experience, directly relating to the subject matter of their testimony.

Scope of Expert Testimony

Under California Evidence Code Section 801, expert testimony is admissible if it is relevant and based on reliable methods properly applied to the facts of the case.

Disclosure Requirements

Before the trial, expert witnesses must be disclosed during the discovery phase. This disclosure should include a detailed written report by the expert, outlining their findings, opinions, the basis for these opinions, and their qualifications. Additionally, parties are required to exchange information about the experts they intend to call, including their names and the subject matter of their expected testimony.

Deposition of Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses can be deposed by opposing parties, where they are questioned under oath, and their responses are recorded. This helps clarify the foundations of the expert’s opinions before trial.

Direct and Cross-Examination

Experts are first questioned by the party who has called them to establish their credentials and lay out their expert opinions. They are then cross-examined by the opposing party to test the reliability of their opinions and the validity of their methodologies.

Daubert/Frye Standards

California adheres to a combination of Daubert and Frye standards, focusing on both the reliability of the methodology and whether the expert’s techniques are generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.

Fees and Compensation

Experts may be compensated for their time spent preparing reports and testifying, with their fees subject to scrutiny, especially if contested by the opposing party.

Impact on Case Outcome

Expert testimony can significantly influence the outcome of a divorce case, especially on financial and custodial matters, with judges often relying heavily on expert opinions to make decisions on complex issues.

Ethical Considerations

Experts are expected to maintain high ethical standards, ensuring objectivity, integrity, and accuracy in their testimonies, irrespective of which party has hired them.

What Should I Expect at Trial?

The trial process is fairly structured. The Petitioner usually presents their case first, followed by the Respondent. This sequence is standard and does not advantage or disadvantage either party.

Procedural Checks

The judge will ensure that both parties are prepared to proceed. This includes confirming that all exhibits are in order, trial fees have been paid, and preliminary discussions about the case have been conducted.

Opening Statements

While optional, opening statements offer a chance to outline your case orally, setting the stage for what the judge will consider during the trial.

Testimony

Witnesses provide direct testimony through open-ended questions that delve into the who, what, where, when, how, and why. After this initial phase, cross-examination allows the opposing side to challenge the testimony, typically through more restrictive yes or no questions.

Closing Arguments

After all evidence is presented and witness testimonies are concluded, each side has the opportunity to make a closing argument. This is your chance to integrate all pieces of evidence, showcasing how they collectively support your desired trial outcome.

Going through a divorce trial demands thorough preparation and a detailed understanding of the court’s procedural complexities. It’s highly recommended that you seek legal representation during such a challenging and important event in your life.  Contact Jafari Law and Mediation Office today to secure a partner who will stand by your side with expertise and compassion.

However, the issuance of a court judgment does not mark the end of considerations for the parties involved. Post-judgment, several practical steps need attention to fully implement the court’s decisions, such as adjusting financial obligations and updating estate plans. In our next discussion, we will delve into what to expect after a divorce has been finalized, covering the essential actions and considerations to ensure compliance and a smooth transition into post-divorce life.

Contact Our Divorce Attorney Today

If you need a divorce attorney in Orange County, Los Angeles, or Ventura County, contact us today. We are here to offer you knowledgeable, compassionate, and assertive legal assistance in all aspects of family law.

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