When you got married, you were certain they were The One. But as it turns out, forever isn’t as long as you thought.
Now that the arguing is over, the papers have been filed, and your divorce trial is on the horizon, you’re gearing up for a legal fight that will change the shape of your life going forward. It’s scary, saddening, and often infuriating to stand in a divorce court opposite someone you cared quite deeply about.
But if you’re not prepared for your divorce trial, it won’t go the way you hope. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for your trial.
Meet with Your Attorney Early and Often
Some people filing for divorce resist getting a lawyer because they don’t want to seem combative. But the truth is that if you want your divorce to shake out equitably, an attorney is the single greatest asset you have.
Meet with your local divorce attorney early and often to discuss your trial strategy. It should be crystal clear what you want and what is realistic.
In addition, divorce attorneys are better versed in the quirks of divorce court than the average person, so they can help you prepare various details of your case that you might overlook.
Do you plan on testifying yourself? If so, you’ll have to prepare testimony in advance.
Will you call witnesses to testify on your behalf? If so, you need to know who you’re calling in advance.
What exhibits will you present? Those have to be assembled and submitted to the court before the trial.
Meeting before your trial is also a preparatory exercise for your lawyer just as much as it is for you. You know your soon-to-be-ex better than anyone, which means you can help your attorney prepare for the testimony your spouse will likely give and the story their attorney will tell.
Get Your Papers in Order
It’s also important to meet with your attorney early because you have to get your paperwork in order well before your trial.
With all the stress of divorce, the last thing you want is to frantically dig for a 2015 tax return at 1 a.m. the night before your trial. The sooner you can collect all the relevant documents, the sooner your attorney can help build your case.
Your attorney is also the person best-equipped to let you know what documents they need. Common documents you should share with your attorney include things like:
- Individual income tax returns (federal, state, and local) for the past three to five years
- Business income tax returns (federal, state, and local) for the past three to five years
- Property tax statements
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Prenuptial agreement (where applicable)
- Proof of your current income
- Proof of your spouse’s current income
- Pension statements
- Retirement account statements
- Loan documents
- Life insurance policies
- Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
- List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage
- List of property jointly acquired during the marriage
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.
Prepare Opening and Closing Arguments
From there, your attorney can help you prepare your opening and closing arguments.
The word “argument” is a bit of a misnomer–you’re not arguing your case, per se. These are factual statements of the case at hand, given to set the theme of the story that you and your attorney are trying to tell in this case.
Your opening statement sets the tone for the rest of the case, giving the judge or jury a chance to anchor information and form impressions. The best opening statements use the facts to tell an organized story, assembling the facts persuasively without making an outright argument.
Your closing statement brings the case full circle. It’s your chance to address unfavorable facts, create the right energy, and engage your audience. A good closing statement reviews the evidence of the case and casts it in the right light, helping your listener understand the evidence in a manner that’s to your benefit.
Work with your attorney to prepare your statements, and have your attorney edit your statements rigorously. If you’re not sure you can give statements yourself, ask your attorney for coaching, or ask them to give the statements on your behalf.
Prepare to Testify
Your attorney can also help you prepare to testify. And no, it’s not at all like what you see on TV.
On TV, witnesses and participants giving testimony are often shown being surprised by questions, answering emotionally, and with great detail. In a real court trial, your attorney will do everything they can to stop that situation from occurring.
When testifying, listen carefully to the question and repeat it in your head to make sure you understand it. If you do not understand exactly what you are being asked, ask for clarification.
This is also important because you have to be careful of compound questions, questions that are phrased to give a wrongful summation of facts, and questions that assume untrue facts. Your ex’s attorney will ask questions designed to present you in a certain light. Think carefully about the question before responding.
When you answer a question, the most important thing is to reply with the shortest answer consistent with the truth. Then stop talking. You should not volunteer information unnecessarily. For example, if asked, “do you own Microsoft stock?” and the answer is no, simply say no, rather than explicating further.
The Shortest Version of “The Whole Truth”
On a related note, answer every question honestly–including the ones that hurt you or cast you in a bad light. Again, do not volunteer information unnecessarily, and do not characterize your responses.
For example, if asked, “Did you have an affair with ______?” and the answer is yes, simply say yes and stop talking. Do not attempt to qualify or justify. Stop talking. Attorneys know that people will talk themselves into a hole if made uncomfortable, and they’re trying to make you say something while emotional.
Tamp down your emotions. Do not fall for it. Answer honestly, answer simply and then stop talking.
Are You Preparing for a Divorce Trial?
Preparing for a divorce trial is one of the most stressful situations anyone can navigate. Having the right support in your corner is critical to coming out the other side with your head held high.
Our team has over a decade of experience in divorce and family law. We prioritize handling every case with the care, compassion, and empathy your family needs to navigate this difficult time.
If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, get in touch today to let us know how we can help.