Once you file for a divorce in your local divorce court, the clerk and judge will read all of the documents, conduct hearings, and if the case goes to a trial the judge or jury will determine the important issues in your divorce case. For instance, the judge or jury will decide who gets what property, who must pay what debts, and who will have custody of the children.
Divorce Court Tips
- Try to settle as many issues as possible before going to the divorce court. This will help the case move quickly. For instance, try to reach and agreement with your spouse as to dividing household property, insurance, and credit card debts. The more issues you leave for the judge to decide, the more chance you take that he/she will not decide in your favor.
- Be prepared. Bring as much information and documentation as you possibly can. It is always best to have too many documents that are never used than to need to use a document that you do not have.
- Dress appropriately and conservatively. Think of what you would wear for a job interview or to church. Make sure your clothing is neat and pressed, and is not revealing.
- Bring a pen and notebook. Take notes. Your attorney may be taking notes but you should also take notes for yourself. This will help you ask your attorney questions and help your attorney understand what issues on most important to you.
- Do not take children to the divorce court unless your attorney tells you to do so. Your children should not hear what goes on in the divorce case, no matter how much they may favor you and dislike your spouse. This also goes for teenagers. Just because your child seems mature does not mean that should have to hear the details of your marriage or negative remarks about their parent.
- If you have an attorney, do not speak unless the judge asks you a question directly. Do not answer questions that the judge asks your attorney.
- When addressing the judge, stand and call him or her "Your Honor."
- Always say "Thank You" to the judge after you speak. Be respectful.
- Never speak to or make comments to your spouse when you are in front of the judge. Do not mumble under your breath, huff, scoff, roll your eyes or otherwise show your displeasure. Be aware of your body language while in the divorce court.
- Bring a book to read because you may have to wait a long time before the clerk calls your case to be heard by the judge in the divorce court. Often times, the judge will hear several cases each day.
What Happens In The Divorce Court
- The divorce case begins when one of the spouses gets a lawyer, who writes up a Petition For Dissolution. This is the document that says why the spouse wants to end the marriage and how they want to settle property and custody issues.
- The lawyer files the Petition with the local divorce court. The lawyer has the Petition and a Summons served on the other spouse.
- The served spouse has to file an Answer within a certain time. If the served spouse does not file an Answer, the court assumes that they agree with everything stated in the Petition.
- The spouses (usually through their lawyers) swap documents and other information about issues such as property, income, and debts. By examining this information, the divorce court can decide how to divide up property and determine child support.
- Some states require that spouses go through mediation before having the judge decide property and child support issues.
- If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is presented to the divorce court judge at an informal hearing. The judge will ask whether each spouse understands and chose to sign the agreement without coercion or pressure.
- If the judge approves the agreement, he/she gives the couple a formal divorce decree. If the judge does not approve the settlement agreement, or if the couple does not reach an agreement, then the case will go to trial.
- At trial, the attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge decides the unresolved issues. Once the judge has reached his/her decision, the judge grants the divorce. Either or both spouses can appeal a judge's decision to a higher court. But, appeals courts rarely reverse the trial judge's decision in divorce cases.