Most family law cases settle without the necessity of judicial intervention. Some couples seeking divorce already have a complete or almost complete plan for the division of assets, debts, and child care responsibilities prior to initiation of divorce proceedings. Other couples may not have a clear plan. In many cases, our attorneys can negotiate a satisfactory settlement by working with the other lawyer on the case. Sometimes, a bit more intervention is needed, and you may have to prepare for a contested divorce hearing.
Contested Divorce Issues
There may be cases where the parties simply cannot come to an agreement on one or more issues. When judicial intervention is needed, the issues most frequently before the court include the following:
- Parenting plans, such as legal and/or physical custody of children, or child visitation;
- Child or spousal support (alimony awards);
- Division of assets; and
- Allocation of pension funds.
Besides the above, any issue could be subject to judicial determination where the parties cannot agree. On rare occasions, the custody of a beloved pet may be the subject of the dispute.
When preparing for a contested divorce hearing, there are things you can do in advance. The goal is twofold: first, you want to be prepared; second, you want to eliminate unnecessary surprises.
Be Prepared for the Contested Divorce Hearing
Being prepared means that you know what issues you are taking to court. If the issue is parenting time, for example, you don’t need any documentation regarding whether that house you own on the beach is marital or non-marital property. As such, it is important to communicate with your divorce attorney so that you have a clear understanding regarding what evidence the court expects to examine.
If you will be testifying, your attorney can also tell you what to expect to be asked about in court. This will give you the opportunity to review any evidence that may be relevant, such as a list of your child’s medical appointments, a counselor’s recommendations, or other information the court may require.
Eliminate Unnecessary Surprises
You can’t eliminate all surprises in life, but you can take steps to make sure you know what you may be dealing with on the day of your hearing. Before the date of your hearing, take the time to drive to the courthouse. Do this at the same time as you will on the day of your hearing. This will help you to determine traffic patterns at the relevant time of day.
Once you get to the courthouse, see if there is a parking lot available. Many courthouses do not have a parking lot. Find at least two back-up parking locations. Once parked, go inside the courthouse. Courthouses are public places, so take a moment to assess the security line inside the courthouse. Know that you will have to go through security on the day you have your hearing.
All of these factors need to be considered in deciding what time to leave your house. Nothing rattles clients more than being unnecessarily late to court because they failed to account for traffic, parking, security, etc.
When You Are Testifying
At the hearing, both lawyers will ask questions for the specific purpose of providing the court with the information necessary to make a decision consistent with California law. Because the lawyers and the judge are aware of the parameters of the law, they will expect you to provide the information they are requesting.
Stay on Course
For example, if they ask you about your child’s special needs, this is not the time to bring up the fact that your soon to be ex-spouse failed to show up for a scheduled visit, or that your child wants to join the soccer team. It is important to listen to the question being asked and respond to that question and only that question. Understand that in every case, your lawyer will have the opportunity to ask additional questions. Consequently, there is no need to fight with the opposing lawyer, or attempt to jam in facts that you haven’t been asked about yet.
In addition to answering the question that has been asked, it is critical that you are completely truthful during your testimony. Divorce is an emotional experience, and it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed – particularly with the added stress of testifying. However, choose your words carefully. It is pretty rare that a spouse “never” spends time with the children, or is “always” working. Providing accurate testimony is not only important because you are under oath, but also because the court, in making its decision about whatever is in dispute, will take its assessment of your credibility into account. Because of this, you want to appear as credible as possible.
Take Your Time
If you break down on the stand, your attorney may ask if you would like to take a minute to compose yourself. Take it. Your attorney knows what he or she is doing. Even though you may understandably want to get done with testifying as soon as possible, taking a moment for yourself – to blow you nose, wipe your eyes, take a deep breath, and have a sip of water – will allow you to regain control. This, in turn, allows you to present the facts and circumstances that are important to your position in a manner that the judge can understand.
Contact a Divorce Attorney
If you are dealing with a contested divorce, you want a divorce attorney who understands the system and will approach your case with your best interests in mind.
Contact experienced family lawyers Cottle Keen Lopiccolo & Heyde to discuss your case and get the help you need.