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Order in the Court: When a Divorce Case Goes to Trial

Very few divorce cases go to trial because most cases are settled earlier. If your case does go to trial, the general process is laid out below.

Before the trial, the Court issues a Trial Order. This gives details about the date of trial, how long it will last, and when you and the other party need to exchange exhibits. Pay attention to the deadlines in the Trial Order. If you do not follow them, you may not be able to fully put on your case at trial.

Exhibits are things you want the court to look at during the trial. You need to get these documents together before the trial and give copies to the other side. The Trial Order gives you deadlines on when to exchange exhibits and when to give copies to the court. Exhibits could be anything that supports the relief you are asking for like:

• pay stubs to show your income

• copies of credit card bills or bank accounts

• your child’s school or medical records

• your monthly budget

The petitioner presents their case first. After taking an oath to tell the truth, the petitioner tells the court what they are asking for and why they believe the Court should grant their request. This is called testimony. If you need to present testimony, be as specific as you can . If the petitioner has exhibits, they give them to the court now. If there is an objection, the Judge will decide whether the exhibits will be admitted into evidence.

When the petitioner is done telling their story, the respondent or their lawyer can ask the petitioner questions. This is called cross-examination. This is not a time for the respondent to argue or tell their side of the story, simply to ask follow-up questions about the petitioner's testimony.

If you are being cross-examined, you need to answer the respondent’s questions truthfully. When you are answering questions, stay calm and stay focused, and only answer the question. If you do not understand the question, ask the Judge to ask the question again or in another way. After cross-examination is done, your attorney may ask a few follow-up questions. This is called re-direct.

If the petitioner brought witnesses, it is their turn to testify. The petitioner asks the witness questions. The witness cannot just talk to the judge on their own. When the petitioner and their witnesses are done speaking, the respondent or their lawyer can can cross-examine the witness.

After the petitioner presents their case, it is the respondent’s turn to present their case. The respondent tells their story after taking an oath to tell the truth. They tell the court what they are asking for and why (testimony). They should be as specific as they can. If the respondent has exhibits, they give them to the court. If the respondent disagrees with the petitioner’s testimony, they tell the court why they believe the petitioner’s testimony was wrong.

After the respondent finishes their testimony, the petitioner or their attorney can cross-examine the respondent. After the respondent’s testimony, the respondent’s witnesses testify. The respondent asks the witnesses questions, and then the petitioner asks the witnesses questions.

When all the testimony is done, the petitioner and respondent often make final arguments to the judge about how they want the issues of the case decided, although the Judge may request written arguments instead. After the final arguments, the trial is over. In many cases, the Judge will ask both sides to submit proposed decrees.

The Judge may announce a decision at the end of the trial, but it is much more likely that he or she will take time to think about the case and make the decision later. By law, the judge is supposed to decide the case within 90 days. When the judge makes their final decisions, they issue the Judgment and Decree and a copy is sent to the parties or their attorneys. The divorce is final when the court clerk enters the Judgment and Decree for the court. The Judgment and Decree is the final decision in the case.

To discuss your family law case, call Kruse Family Law PLLC at 612.231.9865 or email

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