Everything you need to know about trial proceedings for Wisconsin Divorce
Does every divorce require a trial in Wisconsin?
No. Not all divorces end in trials. Only 4% of all court cases actually go to trial. As such, most family law cases end up settling before trial. A marital settlement agreement resolves and covers all issues that are dealt with in a divorce. Often, parties are encouraged to settle before going to trial because a trial can be time-consuming and costly. Settling before trial is also in everyone's best interest. No one would want a judge making major life decisions for you and your children. We often hear judges tell clients that neither party will leave the courtroom happy.
What happens at trial?
At trial, the judge will make a final decision on unresolved issues. These trials are called bench trials because the hearing is in front of a judge and not a jury.
A divorce trial begins with both parties' opening statements that address the court with a brief summary of the case. The petitioner, or the person who requested the divorce, will go first and present their evidence, followed by the respondent, the person who then “responds” to the argument. The respondent also can present their own arguments. Both sides will present evidence and can call experts and witnesses to testify on their behalf.
The experts and witnesses will be direct-examined and cross-examined by the attorneys. A direct examination occurs when an attorney asks their own client questions. These questions are usually open-ended. Cross-Examination occurs when the opposing party’s attorney asks questions. During a cross-examination, “leading questions” will usually be asked. Leading questions often suggest the answer in the question and can be answered with a “yes” or “no” answer. After the evidence and exhibits are presented, both attorneys will present their closing arguments. The judge will make a final ruling based on the evidence. If one side is not happy with the judge's ruling, they may file an appeal.
How do you prepare for a divorce trial?
Properly preparing for a divorce trial is the most important part of the trial. Testifying in court can be a daunting experience for many people. Your attorney will work with you to make sure you are fully prepared for the trial.
An important document is the Pretrial Memorandum which is a document that contains relevant details about the marriage, child custody, child support, spousal support, personal property of both parties, retirement and financial accounts, debts, attorneys’ fees, and other requests that accompany the divorce. The Pretrial Memorandum is an information packet for the judge to review. The court will also need witness lists and financial disclosure statements.
Trials are expensive because of the costs of witnesses & experts, filing documents, evidence & exhibits, and attorney fees. Depending on the case, witnesses and experts can be vital to your case. Sometimes multiple experts are required for a case. Experts and witnesses often charge for their time and skills, which all adds up.
Preparing for a trial can be more costly than the actual trial itself. If you have more questions on whether a trial hearing is your best option, our attorneys can review your case and advise you if a trial is in your best interest.
Divorce Trial Tips
- Arrive at court on time or early. It is important to make a good impression on the judge and courtroom personnel. It is also important to get to court early to prep with your attorney.
- Dress well. Your appearance during your trial is very important. It shows that you take your appearance in court seriously. Wearing a suit or at least dressing business casual is recommended.
- Be prepared. Make sure you are prepared in court and have brought anything that your attorney requests.
- Manage your expectations. Your court case is not likely going to be resolved by one court date. Continuances occur often when more evidence is needed. There will likely be “check-in dates” where your attorney will check in with the court on how the case is going.
- Don't lie. You will be under oath when you testify. False statements could make you subject to perjury charges.
- It is okay to be emotional when you testify. It is not okay to scream or curse at your former spouse. Let the attorneys do the talking.
- Ask Questions. If you are unsure about something, ask.
The experienced attorneys at Divergent Family Law will help you navigate Wisconsin’s tricky legal system and act as your best advocate in the courtroom.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our trial attorneys today to discuss your case further.