The Big Day Arrives

The day of your divorce trial marks the culmination of all your painstaking preparation. You will get a chance to present your side to an impartial judge. But what should you expect, and how should you conduct yourself?

A Last-Minute Proposal

Let's say you, your lawyer, and several bankers' boxes of documents arrive at the courthouse a few minutes before the trial is to begin, and you'll need some time to unpack and get organized. Then the other side arrives, at which point your spouse's lawyer beckons to your lawyer. The other side has a last-minute settlement proposal, so the lawyers huddle. When the judge's clerk appears to ask if everyone is ready, the lawyers ask for a few minutes to talk. Now what?

It may surprise you to know that many cases scheduled for trial settle the day of trial. This is usually because after doing all the pretrial preparations, you or your spouse decide that a less-than-desirable settlement may still be better than the uncertainty of what the judge could order. Your lawyer comes to you with the other side's proposal. The offer is good only if you agree not to go to trial. If the trial starts, all bets are off. What should you do?

Remember that it's always best to negotiate whatever you possibly can. You may not get exactly what you want, but at least you'll maintain some control over the issue instead of allowing a third party complete control. You should also consider the value of settlement to your long-term relationship with your spouse, particularly if you have children.

In the best-case scenario, you spent much of the week before trial clarifying your bottom-line position. You can now evaluate the proposal with that bottom line in mind. If you don't have a bottom line in mind, you'll need to huddle with your lawyer to review the proposal. If it's reasonable, you should probably accept it or make a reasonable counterproposal. A settlement, even on the courthouse steps, is usually better than letting a judge decide.

Trial Attire

If possible, wear a suit. If you don't have a suit, wear formal clothing, not jeans and a T-shirt. If you are worried about not having proper attire, consult with your lawyer or her paralegal about what is appropriate. Wear comfortable clothes because you'll be in an uncomfortable setting all day long. And remember, a judge can see your legs and feet under the counsel table, so be sure your socks match, and sit appropriately if you wear a skirt.

Who Should Come to Court?

Do not bring children to the trial. Judges do not let children testify and won't let them listen to the trial unless they're adults. If the judge wants input from the children, he will talk with them on a day other than the day of your divorce trial. Find a babysitter and leave your children at home.

Limit your entourage. Don't bring your new love interest unless that person is going to testify. If she is, have her there only for testimony. Usually judges won't allow witnesses to sit in a courtroom until after they've testified. Keep that in mind when you ask people to come to your trial. If you want your best friend to be there for moral support, remember that he can be in the courtroom only if he isn't going to testify or has already done so. Think about how much of your personal life you want to share, even with your best friend.

Judges Rely on Their Eyes and Ears

Judges notice what people wear and how they behave, and they draw conclusions from these observations. A rich woman who comes to court casually dressed in a cashmere sweater and Gucci loafers sends a message that she does not take court seriously. A spouse who stares angrily at the other spouse throughout the proceedings will give the judge information about the relationship.

Most courts prohibit food and beverages in the courtroom, but they will provide water at your table. Do not bring soda or munchies, and absolutely do not chew gum. Judges are truly offended by gum and feel it is a sign of disrespect. The last thing you want is for the judge to think you are disrespecting his court.

Judges notice who makes the trial take longer, who is angry, and who is unreasonable. While they don't consciously punish these people, decisions on close issues may be influenced by their frustration with them. Although judges are supposed to be unbiased, they are human, and all humans get frustrated with unreasonable behavior.

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