A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to court for their divorce. What will spouse’s attorney ask me? What dirty laundry is going to be aired? What will the judge decide?
First, it’s important to point out that no matter what sort of courtroom you’re in, some things don’t change and all parties should remember. For example, make sure to look presentable and put together. Remember that the judge can see everything and will notice if you’re laughing, rolling your eyes, or make any other facial or physical gesture. And, most importantly, be honest.
Second, getting divorced is emotional. It often involves children, hurt feelings, betrayal, loss of love, etc. Stay calm and be prepared to be emotionally challenged. This is part of the process and it is to be expected. Your attorney will be there to help protect you and make your voice heard.
Third, many times last-minute settlement discussions occur. Often this happens just minutes before your hearing. Don’t feel pressured to take a settlement. Listen to what is being offered, considered what you want and how far off the offer is from your wants, and speak/listen to your attorney. If you are the one suggesting a settlement, the same considerations apply. Make sure you can separate your feelings and emotions from the case in a way that lets you see the potential settlement in the most rational and logical situation. If you do not want to settle, say so. Make your attorney aware so that he or she knows to deny any potential offering and move straight to trial.
The process is the same regardless of the county, judge, or attorney. If you are the plaintiff – that is the person who filed the case – you will present your case first. This will begin with an opening statement, calling witnesses, calling you, and presenting evidence. Your testimony is arguably the most important piece of your case. It is your voice, your basis for filing, your argument, and proving why what you want should be granted. To do so, your attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to further support your testimony. Presumably these witnesses are people who will show you as a great parent, good spouse, kind person, etc. Some witnesses may also be daycare providers, employers, etc. Other times, you may call a witness to prove something. For example, you may want to subpoena your spouses’ lover to prove he or she has cheated.
Your spouse’s attorney will then have an opportunity to ask you and your witnesses questions. This process is called cross examination. Your attorney will object to some questions asked and/or evidence presented. If you hear your attorney object, stop talking. The judge will need to rule on whether or not to allow you (or your witness) to answer the question. Be calm and be honest. You may feel pressured, put on the spot, nervous, etc. and that’s okay. Remember you have an attorney and he or she is there to protect you.
After you’ve presented your case, the Defendant will be given an opportunity to present their case. They will be able to and will likely do the same things you did – the defendant will testify, his/her witnesses and present evidence. Your attorney will then have an opportunity to cross examine the defendant and his/her witnesses.
When the defendant concludes their case, both attorneys will have an opportunity to present closing arguments. These arguments are spoken to the judge and tend to recap what happened at trial, highlight important testimony or pieces of evidence in support of their case, and ask the judge to do grant their client’s wishes.
Once the judge has heard both sides and collected the evidence that has been presented, he or she will likely go back into their chambers to review and make a decision. If the case is long, has many documents, many witnesses, etc. the judge may state that they will make their decision in writing and dismiss the parties to wait on receiving that decision. If the judge does make the decision that day, he or she will return to the courtroom and state their decision for both parties to hear.
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