The word “court” can conjure up some pretty intimidating images for people, which may be why some people are nervous about what happens in a divorce court. Realistically, anything new and different can be a little scary, and if you’ve never been through a divorce before, you might be experiencing some jitters. So we would like to take a moment to spell out exactly what happens inside divorce court, so that you can arrive with a better understanding of the process, and perhaps less frayed nerves.
First – Roll Call:
Once you’ve entered the court, you’ll find a seat and wait. If you are with your attorney, they will guide you as to where you should be sitting. At the time of the scheduled divorce court appointment, the court clerk will call everyone to order, which means you need to be quiet and wait for instructions. Everyone will then be told to rise for the judge, who will enter the courtroom and sit at the ‘bench’, which what a Judge’s large desk is called. The judge begins the proceeding by confirming that all parties are present and ready to proceed. This means you, your spouse, and your respective attorneys.
Second – Motions and Requests:
Before the process begins, and before anyone can present their case to the court, the petitioning party and/or the responding party makes any necessary preliminary motions or requests.This could include motions to suppress evidence, requests for delays to accommodate any expert witnesses who are running late, or any other item that attorneys may wish to discuss with the judge before getting started.
In case you aren’t familiar with these terms, the petitioning party (also sometimes referred to as the plaintiff) is the spouse who is asking for the divorce, while the responding party (also called the defendant) refers to the other spouse.
Third – Petitioner’s Case:
At this point, the petitioner’s case is presented to the Judge. If the petitioner has an attorney, then the attorney would present the case to the Judge. In the case of DIY divorces where the parties have chosen to represent themselves, or one party has chosen to represent themselves, the petitioner would present their own case to the Judge.
This would include any evidence, witnesses, or expert testimony that the petitioner wishes to share with the court. The respondent’s attorney may cross-examine anyone who testified, including the petitioner, and make objections to any testimony, evidence, or arguments.
Fourth – Respondent’s Case:
After the petitioner presents their case, it’s the Respondent’s turn. This happens in the same format as the presentation of the petitioner’s case, with evidence and witnesses being presented, and the petitioner’s attorney having the opportunity to cross-examine and object.
Fifth – Closing Statements:
After both the petitioner and the respondent have presented their cases to the Judge, their attorneys will both make closing statements. A closing statement is just a summary of the case as it was presented, with the request that the judge rule in favor of one particular party.
Sixth – The Court’s Decision:
At this point the judge makes a decision based on all of the evidence and testimony presented, along with all of the other factors that affect the final determination. These factors, which influence things like spousal support, child custody and asset division, include things like how long the couple was married for, and whether or not someone was at fault for the divorce.
Sometimes the judge presents their decision immediately, and sometimes they may take a brief recess in order to review the case before making a decision. On occasion, a judge might choose to reserve judgment, which means that they will take some time to consider the case before making a determination. In a situation where the Judge chooses to reserve judgement, the court will alert all parties as to the Judge’s decision at a later date. This is the hardest type of judgment, as the parties must wait, sometimes for up to months, until a formal ruling is made.
Seventh – Finalization:
Once a ruling is made, whether it happens on the same day or at a later date, a judgment is entered and the divorce is finalized. At this point sometimes one or both parties may challenge the judgment which would result in further proceedings. If nothing is contested, then the divorce is considered to be legal, and the parties are officially divorced.
Although this is a very simplified version of what actually takes place during a divorce proceeding, it serves to provide you with a clear, overall picture of what to expect when you go to court on the day of your divorce trial. We hope this has been helpful to you, but if there is one final piece of advice we feel is critical to the success of your divorce, it is that you have an experienced divorce attorney working to ensure that your rights are being protected and your interests are being looked out for. When it comes to handling a divorce in Michigan, nothing beats years of experience.