What Happens in a Divorce Trial?
Now that the year is almost over, you may be counting the days until Divorce Monday, when you plan to initiate the divorce proceedings now that you and your spouse have decided to separate. Maybe you and your spouse filed for divorce months ago, expecting your divorce case to be simple; you may have expected to be legally single a few months after filing for divorce, but now it is looking more and more like your divorce case will need to go to trial. If you have tried everything to avoid letting a judge decide the outcome of your case, it is understandable to be worried. No one is supposed to win or lose in a divorce, but when your divorce goes to trial, the judge decides who gets what, effectively ruling in favor of one party and against the other on every point of contention.
Divorce trials are more common than you might think; it is not just celebrities whose divorce cases go to trial. A Tampa family law attorney can help you get a satisfactory outcome in your divorce case, whether your case goes to trial or whether you can resolve all matters of parenting time and division of property during mediation.
First Steps Toward Getting a Divorce
Even in the simplest divorce cases, the parties must file several documents with the court. The first step is to file a divorce petition. In uncontested divorce cases, the parties agree on all the requests in the divorce petition before filing it. In contested divorce cases, you file the petition with your requests, and then your spouse has a month to file a response with her own requests if she does not agree to all of yours. Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, the parties must submit financial disclosures to the court. In your financial disclosures, you must list all the assets that you own and all the debts that you owe, either alone or jointly with your spouse.
What Determines Whether or Not Your Case Will Go to Trial
The Florida family courts order almost every couple to attend divorce mediation before the case can go to trial. Mediation is much less expensive than going to trial, and many families find it a lot less stressful, too. Divorce is not the only instance in which the family law courts order families to attend mediation. The courts also order mediation for parents who have never been legally married to each other but have children together and are trying to agree to a parenting plan for their children.
During mediation, the court appoints a mediator to help you and your spouse negotiate to reach an agreement about the points you disagreed with on your divorce petition and your spouse’s response. Whether you hire a lawyer for your divorce case is entirely your choice, but your divorce case will be much easier if you do. Likewise, if you hire a lawyer, he or she is more likely to resolve your divorce case that will not lead to further disputes where you and your ex-spouse have to go back to court. Your lawyer can help you reach an agreement during mediation.
The goal of mediation is to finalize a marital settlement agreement (MSA), which states how the parties will divide their marital assets and debts. If you and your spouse have minor children together, your goal is also to finalize a parenting plan, which determines which days of the year the children will spend with which parent. The parenting plan does not deal with child support, nor does the MSA. Based on the parents’ income, assets, and expenses and the parenting plan, the court calculates child support according to a legally mandated formula. If the parties agree on an MSA and parenting plan during mediation, then the judge simply adopts these when issuing the final divorce decree.
Arguing Your Case Before the Judge
Most couples can agree on an MSA and parenting plan during mediation, but if they cannot, the court will schedule a trial. As with other kinds of legal actions, your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer can continue negotiating between the end of mediation and the beginning of the trial. You may be able to reach a settlement before the trial date.
If your case goes to trial, you and your lawyer will present documents to support your claims and persuade the judge to award you the marital property and parenting time you request. The parties also have the right to summon witnesses to support their claims. Expert witness testimony often helps judges determine imputed income for alimony or child support decisions, as vocational experts and career counselors give their professional opinions on the amount of money one of the spouses could earn if he or she returned to the workforce.
At the end of the trial, the judge declares the parties legally single by issuing a divorce decree, finalizing the divorce. In this case, it is the judge who has the final decision about parenting time and the division of property.
What Happens After Your Divorce Trial?
After your divorce becomes final, you may never have to set foot in family court again, but you always have the right to go back to court if issues arise after the court finalizes your divorce. For example, you can go to court to enforce the divorce decree or parenting plan if your spouse does not comply with these. Alimony and child support amounts are always modifiable if one spouse’s financial circumstances change. For example, if you lose your job, the court will almost always agree to reduce the child support you must pay each month unless it determines that you left the workforce by your own choice and are capable of finding a new job but have chosen not to look for one.
Contact The Sherer Law Firm About Contentious Divorce Cases
A divorce lawyer can help you finalize your divorce during mediation or get a satisfactory outcome at trial. Contact The Sherer Law Firm in Tampa, Florida, to set up a consultation.