Being prepared for trial will take time and effort from both you and your lawyer. You'll need to meet with your lawyer to decide on a final witness and evidence list, review your testimony and make sure you have all the information you need to present your case. Most states provide timelines for the exchange of witness and exhibit lists so it's likely you will have already given this information to your spouse and received her lists as well. When you provided your list to your spouse, you probably included every possible person who you could think of to call to help you. Now is the time to pare down your list and fine tune your case presentation.
Make sure your lawyer meets with the witnesses who will testify at the trial. He needs to get a feel for these witnesses and how they will present themselves to the judge. It's critical that your lawyer know if potential witnesses have any negative information about you because this will probably come out at trial.
If you're contesting custody, your witness list will probably include family and friends, but your lawyer will streamline this group of witnesses. The judge assumes family members and friends are going to say nice things about you, so their testimony is noteworthy only when they don't (or if your spouse's family has good things to say about you). Select a family member who has seen both you and your spouse with the children and can provide recent information. Then select one really good witness from among your friends, which is probably enough, because the judge doesn't need to hear six people say the same thing. Choose the friend or two who'll be the most effective and who really knows you and your children well. Also choose the witnesses that have firsthand knowledge of facts that could help your case.
Double-Check Financial Information
For financial issues, you'll be using experts. If you haven't been able to agree on independent neutrals, both sides will bring their experts to the trial. You and your lawyer need to review the experts' testimony with them ahead of time and make sure they have all the accurate and current information. If your experts are interesting and easy to understand, they should be given ample time on the witness stand. If they're dull but very bright, you may want to limit their testimony to explaining charts and exhibits clearly and concisely. Most importantly, you want to make sure that your experts have considered alternatives that may be offered by your spouse's expert so they can be prepared with good explanations as to why your spouse's expert is wrong. You don't want to bore the judge, but you do want the judge to understand your position and the weaknesses of your spouse's position.
As you and your experts prepare for trial, you'll be able to see whether you can prove your position on certain issues. If your experts can't convince you, they can't convince the judge. On the other hand, if you see the weaknesses in your argument, you may choose to give in on those issues and focus on the areas where you're strong. Considering on an issue you are unlikely to succeed with at the trial is a small sacrifice to you and may produce some movement toward settlement from the other side as well.
Use Current Numbers
Both sides need to give each other and the court up-to-date financial information. Recent pay stubs, the most recent tax returns available, current stocks, real estate values, and any other financial document related to your particular financial assets should be in your lawyer's file, ready for court. If your lawyer plans on using these as evidence at trial, she may have to subpoena a witness from your place of employment, investment company, or other source in order to get the documents into evidence at trial. Make sure your lawyer has made all the necessary arrangements well in advance of trial.
In order to value assets, you and your spouse will need to agree on a date in time or rely on the court to set a date. If you and the other side haven't agreed on a date for valuing assets, it's possible the court will use the date the divorce was filed or a pretrial or trial date. You need to have values as of all possible dates the judge could use. If you want the judge to use a different date, you'll need a persuasive reason. If stock market values have been fluctuating widely, real estate prices have been booming, or some other factor has affected your holdings' values, the judge will want to pick a valuation date that doesn't create a crazy result. The judge will want to use a value that is valid at the time he makes his decision.
Review Your Exhibits
Exhibits are the documents given to the judge during the trial. They include budgets, financial statements, expert reports, charts, graphs, emails, text messages, police reports, psychological records, medical records, and any other documents that will help you prove your case. Exhibits are intended to validate testimony and, sometimes, to flesh it out. Your trial will go much more smoothly and you will please the judge if both sides meet beforehand to review exhibits.
While you may have copies of all your exhibits, these documents are not automatically admissible at trial. Rules of evidence typically require a witness from the company that keeps the records to bring the documents with them to court. This ensures the accuracy of the documents accepted into evidence.
During this review, it'll be clear to the lawyers that some exhibits are going to be received by the judge, no matter how much they object, like tax returns and pay stubs. It's in everyone's best interests to stipulate, or agree, to admit these documents. As one side presents its case and these exhibits are offered into evidence, the other side can simply say, “stipulated.” This saves a lot of time during the trial, and judges like trials that move along. It's also a good way to save money because you won't have to subpoena a witness to validate the document.
Even if you have agreed with your spouse that certain documents will be admitted, your attorney will still have to establish their authenticity. In lawyer language, this is called laying the foundation for the records. Let's say you're trying to admit documents from the bank. Ordinarily, this would mean you have to bring a bank employee, the record keeper, to the courtroom to testify these are indeed your records from the bank. The other side knows you can get the bank employee to come to court with the records by issuing a subpoena duces tecum, which is Latin for “show up with the stuff.” Your spouse's lawyer might well agree to waive her foundation objection to the bank records. That way you don't have to pay for the subpoena, for getting it served, and for having the guy from the bank come to court.
Laying foundation for an exhibit can be unnecessarily expensive and time consuming. For this reason, it is to both your and your spouse's benefit to agree on the authenticity of exhibits if at all possible. If you object to all of your spouse's exhibits — even the ones that are clearly accurate — the judge will be irritated, and it's rarely to your advantage to irritate a judge. However, both sides will probably have exhibits that will require bringing a person to court to lay foundation. Lawyers will be happy to negotiate a deal here: “I will waive my foundation objection to your bank records if you will waive your foundation objection to my medical records.” This way neither side has to bring a witness to authenticate the records. The judge will be happy, and a happy judge will do a better job of listening to evidence.
Sometimes litigants bring a storage box of canceled checks to court as an exhibit. No judge has time to go through this box of checks. Pull out the checks that prove something like an extravagant purchase or outrageous spending for a period of time. This will allow the judge to focus on the problem you are trying to prove.
If you're using charts and graphs as exhibits, take a hard look at them. Make sure you have the necessary backup documents to support the information contained in the graphs and exhibits. Do you understand them? If you don't, what makes you think the judge will? Only present exhibits to the judge that will help her understand issues and your position on them. In these situations, sometimes less is more.