Your Guide to Wisconsin Divorce Trial Proceedings
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 qualified professionals and witnesses to testify on their behalf.
Those testifying 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 & qualified professionals, filing documents, evidence & exhibits, and attorney fees. Depending on the case, witnesses and professional consultants can be vital. Sometimes multiple consultants are required for a case. These professionals 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
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.