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5 Essential Elements of a Divorce Trial

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2021 | Divorce

Many people have a general understanding of the process associated with a divorce trial. With that said, they may still not fully understand the primary components of a marriage dissolution trial. There are five essential elements of divorce trial in the United States:

  • Parties delineate positions on major issues
  • Petitioner’s general presentation of evidence
  • Respondent’s general presentation of evidence
  • Presentation of expert reports and testimony
  • Questions from the court

Parties Delineate Positions on Major Issues

At the outset of a marriage dissolution proceeding, each party is provided the opportunity to set forth their position regarding the matters at issue in the case. The bottom-line reality is that a divorce is a type of civil lawsuit. Therefore, as is the case with any civil litigation anywhere in the United States, the parties to such litigation have the ability to make what oftentimes are referred to as “opening statements.” A divorce trial is no different.

The matters at issue in a trial vary from one case to another. With that said, the primary categories of matters oftentimes at issue in a divorce case are:

  • Division of assets and debts
  • Child custody
  • Parenting time or visitation
  • Child support
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance

Petitioner’s General Presentation of Evidence

The next primary phase of a divorce trial is the presentation of evidence by the petitioner or plaintiff. Depending on what state a divorce case is pursued, the individual who brings the case is known as petitioner or plaintiff. Like at any other civil trial, the petitioner or plaintiff is vested with the ability to present testimony from witnesses, including experts. A petitioner or plaintiff can present documentary and other types of evidence as well during the course of that party’s “case in chief.”

Respondent’s General Presentation of Evidence

In a similar fashion, once the petitioner or plaintiff presents their evidence, the respondent or defendant follows suit. The party responding to a divorce petition or divorce complaint, the individual against who the marriage dissolution case is filed, is known either as respondent or defendant in jurisdictions across the country.

The respondent or defendant is able to present the same types of evidence presented during the petitioner or plaintiff’s case. This also includes testimony and any other type of permissible evidence.

Presentation of Expert Reports and Testimony

As noted above, the parties to a divorce case may have the need for expert witnesses and evidence from recognized authorities. Testimony and evidence from experts can represent a major component of a marriage dissolution case. More frequently relied upon experts in divorce cases include:

  • Financial experts of different types
  • Professionals who prepare home studies for child custody and related purposes
  • Physicians, psychologists, and other medical professionals

In order for a witness to be considered an expert in a divorce proceeding, the individual must be “qualified” as such by the court. This means that evidence must be presented to the court that supports the claim that the person truly is a recognized expert in their field before an expert witness will be permitted to testify .

One of the primary, important differences between an expert witness and other witnesses called to the stand in a divorce case is the ability of an expert to state their opinion to the court. Other types of witnesses testifying in divorce or any other civil trial are not able to express opinions about issues before the court from the stand when testifying.

Questions from the Court

In other types of civil proceedings, like personal injury cases or contract disputes, judges tend to be limited in asking questions themselves to witnesses during a trial. In divorce cases, judges tend to exercise a bit more latitude when it comes to posing questions to witnesses during the course of a marriage dissolution trial. In a divorce case, a judge generally is vested with the discretion to question witnesses as they deem fit, the parties being able to note objections to such questioning for the record (if they should have an objection).

If you are contemplating or facing the prospect of a divorce case, you best protect your legal rights by being as proactive as possible in retaining experienced legal representation. The first step to engaging the services of a skilled, committed, tenacious divorce attorney is to schedule an initial consultation and case evaluation with legal counsel. As a matter of common practice in the United States, a typical divorce lawyer does not charge a fee for an initial consultation with a prospective client.

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