Preparation is a crucial factor for an effective presentation of your case at trial. This includes your being familiar with what to wear, how to act, and what will be expected of you during your testimony. We have prepared this information to help put you at ease in these areas. Please read the contents carefully and follow up with any questions you have so that your preparation will be thorough.
Typically, at the outset of your trial, each lawyer will give his or her “opening statement,” outlining the most important aspects of the case and previewing testimony and documents he or she expects to be presented to the judge. Your attorney is not permitted to argue for or against your position in the opening statement. Rather, he or she is attempting to give the judge a “road map” to follow during the trial.
After the “opening statements,” the petitioner’s case is presented with witnesses and evidence to support the position he will take in the final argument. This evidence includes testimony from either or both of the parties, medical and psychological witnesses, CPAs and business evaluation experts, and custody witnesses. Generally, your witnesses tell your side of the story by answering questions posed by your attorney. They are then cross-examined by the other party’s attorney. In addition, the court may ask direct questions of any witness. At the conclusion of the petitioner’s case, the respondent’s attorney presents his case, going through the same process of direct examination and cross-examination. When the respondent’s attorney concludes his case, the petitioner’s attorney has one more opportunity to present witnesses or other evidence to rebut evidence presented by the respondent. The judge listens to all evidence presented by both sides so that he or she can render a fair and impartial judgment.
During the trial, the judge also has the responsibility of deciding procedural and legal matters that affect the conduct of your trial. For example, your attorney may object to a statement made by a witness for the other side on the grounds that it is not admissible under the rules of evidence or procedure. By ruling the evidence admissible or inadmissible, the judge is not deciding whether he believes or does not believe the evidence. He is simply deciding whether the other party has the right to present that particular type of evidence to the court. After he hears all the evidence, the judge will decide on how much credibility he attributes to the testimony.
After both sides have presented their evidence, the attorneys present closing arguments. Both attorneys attempt to convince the judge that his or her interpretation of the evidence is the correct one and that his or her client is entitled to the distribution of property or custody arrangement being sought.
After the closing arguments conclude, the judge will make orders relative to the nature of the case. For instance, in a dissolution proceeding, he will distribute the assets and liabilities between the parties, announce responsibilities regarding the minor children, and determine whether one party should contribute to the other’s attorney’s fees.
Usually, the decision made by the judge is a final resolution of this particular dispute between the parties; however, the losing party can appeal the judgment to a higher court if the trial judge made an error in applying the law to the facts or made a truly unreasonable order.
Even a judge, who has a great deal of experience in a courtroom setting, derives the basis of his opinion more from what he observes in the courtroom than from what he hears. He or she cannot help but form an impression of the parties themselves. Therefore, your appearance and demeanor is of utmost importance. Study and remember the following checklist:
Your testimony is the single, most important aspect of the trial. This checklist, along with a pre-trial conference with your attorney going over your testimony will assist you in making your best impression.