California Divorce Trial Preparation Tips

A divorce trial is the worst part of the divorce.  Trials are highly contentious, stressful, and emotional.  Trials are also the single most expensive part of a divorce.  Unsurprisingly, 95% of divorce cases do not go to trial.

During a divorce, you will need to divide marital property and debts, figure out child custody/support arrangements, and determine if one spouse will pay the other spousal support.  Before going to trial, you should attempt to negotiate these issues.  If you cannot negotiate a settlement, you may opt for mediation where a neutral party will work with you to come to an agreement.  Mediation is not binding, so mediation can fail if one couple rejects the agreement.  If negotiations and mediation fail, the case will have to go to trial.

If the case needs to go to trial, either you or your spouse will need to request a trial date.  You can have a trail on all issues or just some.  For example, if you and your spouse have figured out a child custody schedule, but are at an impasse when it comes to property division, you can hold a trial to resolve the property division issues.  If your divorce case does go to trial, get a lawyer if you have not already done so.  You may be able to handle negotiation or mediation without a lawyer, but trials are much trickier.

In California, divorce trials are bench trials, meaning there is no jury and the judge will decide all of the issues.  Before the trial begins, you and your spouse must attend a mandatory settlement conference.  This is a last-ditch effort to get the couple to settle.  In some counties, the judge will offer his/her insight for a potential settlement.

During the trial, each side will be able to present evidence and call witnesses.  If you are seeking any kind of support, you will need to present evidence of your income and expenses.  Emails and texts can be highly probative if you are claiming abuse.  Evidence of domestic violence is a factor when calculating spousal support and determining child custody.  If you are contemplating divorce, keep a careful record of any evidence that could potentially be useful in a trial.  The court will not admit any evidence illegally obtained, so do no hack into your spouse’s emails looking for something incriminating.

Witnesses can provide additional context to the divorce proceeding.  Usually both parties will have to testify.  Other people such as family and acquaintances may be called to testify if their testimony can shed light on any issues.  You can also call expert witnesses.  Experts include appraisers, forensic accountants, and child custody experts.

The length of the trial depends on the complexity of the case.  Once the trial concludes, the judge will decide the issues.  In some counties, the judge will call the parties to read his/her decision.  In some counties, the court will mail the parties the judge’s decision.