What Happens When a Divorce Goes to Trial?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately half of all marriages will end in divorce. Since the introduction of no-fault divorce in 1970, ending a marriage has been easier for couples who do not quality for traditional grounds for divorce, such as adultery or abuse, but rather wish to end the marriage even though no one is at fault. While most divorces are settled out of court, if a spouse is seeking a fault divorce or the divorce is contested, the case may go to trial. It is important for divorcing couples to understand the process they will go through if they cannot settle outside of court and their case heads to trial.
One spouse typically files marriage dissolution papers with the court and the case is served on the other spouse. Each side must respond to requests for admission and may be required to appear for depositions to answer questions under oath before a court reporter. Spouses’ friends and family may also be subpoenaed to answer questions under oath before a court reporter. As the process of discovery begins, spouses may have to answer questions and produce documents, such as copies of bank statements, mortgage documents, and tax returns.
A pretrial conference will establish the estimated length of the trial, issues to be decided and whether certain evidence is admissible. Before you get to the point of a pre-trial conference the Court tries to assist you in settlement. First, the parties are required to attend an Early Settlement Panel wherein each side presents him/her case to a panel of volunteer attorneys. The panel then gives their recommendation for settlement. If the parties cannot settle with the assistance of the panel, the parties are then required to attend economic mediation with a Court appointed mediator. If the parties are still not able to settle they return to the Court for an Intensive Settlement Conference where they try to work out the remaining issues with the assistance of the Judge. Once all of these avenues are exhausted the parties attend a pre-trial conference. At that time spouses’ and witnesses’ testimony are prepared and the attorneys will attempt to narrow the issues for trial through negotiation.
After preliminary matters are discussed, each side will make an opening statement in which they will provide an overview of the case and a summary of evidence they intend to present during the trial. Witnesses will be sworn in one at a time to give their testimony and may be cross-examined by the other side.
Evidence must comply with the New Jersey Rules of Evidence to be admissible. The most common example of inadmissible evidence is hearsay; an out-of-court statement presented in court to prove the truth of the statement. Testimony, such as what one spouse’s friend said about the other spouse, is most likely hearsay and will not be admissible because the information cannot be substantiated and is viewed by the court as unreliable.
Even when filing for a fault divorce, New Jersey law dictates that marital fault will not be considered in decisions regarding alimony, child support, and division of marital assets. In custody cases, fault may be considered only in decisions involving parental fitness.
The judge will decide the facts of the case and apply those facts to existing law to make their decision. The judge will issue either one comprehensive final decree or separate orders outlining his/her decision on property distribution, spousal support, and custody and child support. The judge’s rulings must be carried out, however either party may choose to file a motion for reconsideration or an appeal.
Mendham Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Take Divorce Cases to Trial
If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement regarding your divorce, your case may be headed for trial. Contact a skilled Mendham divorce lawyer at Lyons & Associates, P.C. to schedule a confidential consultation. Our offices are located in Somerville and we represent clients throughout New Jersey, including Somerville, Somerset, Mendham, and Woodbridge. Contact us online or call us at 908-575-9777.