After numerous rounds of motions, proposals to settle from one side or the other, and the making of emergency arrangements, it’s become clear. You and your spouse are never going to settle your issues without a trial.
As Pennsylvania divorce attorneys we find many of our clients are quite intimidated about the trial process. It’s good to approach trials with the gravity they deserve, but they aren’t quite the circuses you’ve seen on daytime TV.
Divorce trials function much like any civil trial.
Both your attorney and your ex’s attorney will make opening statements. Both your attorney and your ex’s attorney will enter admissible items into evidence, and will call witnesses to the stand. Both attorneys will argue for one position or another on their client’s behalf. And both attorneys will give a closing statement.
It’s all about laying out the facts of the case as they pertain to assets, debts, custody, and spousal support. No more, no less.
Divorce trials are about dissolving a contract and forging a new contractual agreement, not fighting about who was the worst spouse.
You probably didn’t realize it when you said I do, but a marriage is a contract. For example, you’re agreeing to hold assets acquired after the date of the marriage as marital property. Prenuptial agreements are more formalized and complex versions of the contract, but one exists.
When you try to settle out of court, you are basically just like two business partners trying to agree on how to get divide up the assets and responsibilities of a failed business. If you can come to some agreement, fantastic. The courts are happy to let you do that, and your lawyers are happy to draw up paperwork that you both will sign. This will become the basis of your new contract.
If you can’t agree, the trial essentially creates a new contract for you. Over time that contract may be modified or amended as necessary, but for the most part it will govern how certain key parts of your life continue. The new contract is your divorce decree, which does more than dissolve your divorce. The rights and responsibilities you take on as a result are serious, and if you breach your court-ordered contract you could end up back in court.
There is no jury.
Twelve men and women are not going to vote on who is in the right. The judge will make a ruling based solely upon the evidence.
There will be whole segments of your marriage story he or she will never hear, and much will depend on how effective your attorney is at arguing for the fairness and fitness of one arrangement over another. Which leads to the next point.
It’s usually better to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom.
The judge does not know you. The judge may be a caring person, but he or she can’t afford to care about you, specifically. The judge doesn’t know your spouse. The judge doesn’t know your kids. And, as mentioned above, he or she is only going to hear a portion of your story.
And yet he or she has a great deal of power to rule on the issues of any divorce case as long as he or she stays within an extremely broad set of guidelines.
The judge is a human, with his or her own biases, history, and even personal problems. The court system is bogged down. There are dozens of other divorces he or she is going to have to make decisions about this week.
Is it any wonder a lot of people walk away from their divorce trials unhappy about the results? It gets even worse when people try to represent themselves pro se.
This is not to say some divorces shouldn’t go to trial. There are times when taking an ex to court is more than appropriate, especially if he or she won’t agree to reasonable arrangements well within the boundaries of divorce law. To achieve the best results, you need to consult with your attorney.
Ready to get started? Contact Sadek and Cooper today to begin.