“Divorce” is one of those words that hits you like a gut punch. Even if you know that ending your marriage is the best option and that everyone will be happier and healthier in the long run, the path to divorce can feel incredibly daunting, especially if you and your spouse end up in court.
While the laws regarding divorce differ from state to state, you likely have access to alternatives that allow you to avoid a courtroom. In cases of amicable divorce, couples may be able to simply file, submit a divorce agreement for court approval, and call it quits.
Mediation is another great choice that can save time and money. This option is beneficial for couples who are willing to negotiate an agreement for issues like the division of assets and child custody but are struggling to do it on their own.
Even with these options at your disposal, though, you may find that negotiation simply isn’t possible. In that case, you’ll have to attend family court hearings so a judge can hear both sides, review your documentation, and make a decision on your behalf.
Naturally, this process can be anxiety-inducing. What can you do to put your best foot forward and achieve the outcome you desire?
Understanding what to expect and what judges are looking for is a good start, but you may also need the assistance of a lawyer or a consultant skilled in testimony and witness preparation. Here’s what you need to know to communicate effectively and make your case.
How Does a Divorce Case Work?
When you attend a divorce hearing, you’ll be required to provide a range of information in order to help the judge come to a ruling. This will include documentation that supports your case, as well as any evidence you wish to present.
As you present your case, you may be asked to give testimony, in which case your legal team and your spouse’s legal team will ask you questions. A judge may also question you. In some hearings, you can call additional witnesses to support your case.
Typically, the party who filed for divorce will present their case first. Then, the other side will get their turn. When you go to court, you can represent yourself, but you must follow certain rules and procedures. Failure to do so could harm your case, which is why it’s best to hire an experienced divorce attorney if your divorce goes to court.
Once both sides have given testimony, submitted evidence, and provided all requested information, the judge will review and make a decision regarding unresolved issues. From there, a divorce agreement will be drawn up based on the judge’s ruling, and the divorce can be finalized.
What Is a Divorce Court Judge Looking for?
Many people are nervous about the prospect of giving testimony in court. They want to make a good impression and give a judge every reason to rule in their favor. Knowing what a judge is looking for could be the element that swings the case in your favor.
Generally speaking, judges are interested in learning all they can in order to make a fair and informed decision. They’re looking for honesty and for deception, as well as any indications that emotions, rather than facts, are the motivating factor holding up a peaceful resolution.
During your case, a judge may ask any number of questions and request a range of documents. Often, you and your spouse will be asked to provide background information and details about joint assets. If child custody is involved, the judge’s main priority is to look out for the best interests of the children.
The judge needs to understand why you are seeking a divorce, so you’ll probably have to provide pertinent information about the length of your marriage and whether you attempted to resolve differences before deciding that divorce was the best option.
Each state has its own requirements you’ll have to meet. These could include circumstances that serve as grounds for divorce, such as infidelity, fraud, addiction, or domestic abuse. Without these grounds, you can still seek a no-fault divorce, but the judge may want to understand your reasons.
Many states have a cooling-off period, also known as a mandatory waiting period, that ranges from about 60 days to 12 months. The judge will want to know if you’ve met these requirements and are eligible to complete your divorce. Finally, you’ll have to discuss any shared children so that custody arrangements can be made.
Details of Joint Assets
Division of property, including assets and debts, is a major component of most divorce cases, and it’s an area where many couples struggle to reach an agreement. Certain state laws regulate the fair and equitable division of assets, but even in such cases, judges have some latitude to stray from the formula and award assets to divorcing parties.
For example, suppose that one party willfully fails to disclose assets, and the judge discovers the deception. The court has the right to assess some form of penalty, which could include assigning the entire value of the hidden assets to the other spouse or making the deceptive party pay the other party’s legal fees.
The judge will want a complete accounting of community property, so when you submit records and give testimony, full disclosure is in your best interests.
Acting in the Best Interests of Children
Family court is tasked with protecting the best interests of children in divorce and custody cases. This includes making decisions that support their health, safety, and well-being and ensuring that their physical, emotional, and financial needs are met.
There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical refers to where children reside, while legal custody refers to whether parents can make lifestyle decisions about religion, education, health care, and so on.
Even if one parent is granted full physical custody, with the other receiving minimal visitation or parenting time, the parents could still be granted joint legal custody.
Each case is different, and judges take many factors into account when determining physical and legal custody. In the process, they may request documents, interview parents and other involved parties, and even order an independent custody evaluation by a professional.
How to Give Testimony in Court
Now that you have a general understanding of what judges are looking for and where they’re coming from, you can work on a strategy to communicate effectively in court.
Being honest and forthcoming, meeting all requirements, and keeping your cool despite heightened emotions are all important, but to properly prepare, you may need professional assistance.
Work with an Experienced Divorce Attorney
An experienced divorce lawyer with a strong track record in cases like yours can guide you through the process and strengthen your case. Often, your attorney or legal team will prepare you for court by providing you with common questions, advising you on how to behave, and coaching you through practice testimony.
This preparation may be enough, particularly if your law firm has a well-rounded staff of experts. However, a lawyer’s skill in witness preparation may be somewhat limited, as their primary focus is on the evidence you’ll provide. You may also need the help of a professional who understands your psychological and emotional state.
Consider a Witness Prep Consultant
A trained testimony and witness preparation consultant may or may not be a legal professional. Either way, this person is well versed in witness and court psychology and is therefore ideally suited to prepare you to give testimony.
Seasoned consultants are aware of the stress you’re under and how it can impact effective communications, and they work to understand your motives and goals in order to elicit the best testimony.
They know how the wrong approach can impact credibility and negatively influence a judge, and they’ll help you pinpoint messaging and deliver it positively and effectively.
Keep Calm and Tell the Truth
You will likely want to focus on remaining calm and providing truthful information so that you appear credible, consistent, and reliable.
Divorce can be incredibly emotional, and you may harbor feelings of anger, frustration, jealousy, guilt, and shame. Paired with the heightened stress of your situation, these emotions can cause you to behave in ways that are detrimental to your cause.
However, the judge will not appreciate outbursts in court. It doesn’t matter if your ex is baiting you or the judge is testing you — always try to remain calm and provide what the judge requests to the best of your ability without giving in to emotions.
What Not to Say in Divorce Court
Knowing what not to do in court is just as important as understanding what you should do. First, you should never argue with the judge or appear combative. When you understand and follow the rules and behave with decorum, it will help to paint you as a credible witness.
When giving testimony, keep any statements factual. Don’t embellish or confuse feelings and beliefs with facts, and never bad-mouth your spouse. Judges are alert for signs of manipulation, pettiness, and parental alienation, and they will not reward you for this behavior.
When you’re stressed, drained, and at the end of your rope, it’s all too easy to let emotions take the wheel and push you into regrettable and counterproductive acts.
Going to court to finalize your divorce could take weeks, months, or even years, depending on how complex your case is. Prioritizing your health and wellness throughout this difficult process is essential to performing well in court and emerging from the process physically and mentally healthy and ready to move forward.
Preparation is Key
Coming to court prepared is the best way to improve your chances for your preferred outcomes, especially concerning the division of assets and child custody.
Remember that judges in divorce courts see plenty of cases like yours, so they always appreciate a witness who is prepared, truthful, and concise. With help from professionals like a divorce attorney or a testimony and witness prep consultant, you should be confident and prepared by the time you appear in court.
Do you need help preparing for divorce proceedings? DivorcePlus has the targeted public resources and trusted professional services you need. Contact an on-demand professional to get started.