Tenth video in an 11 part series of tutorial videos on how to handle a contested divorce case in California. In this video, we explain how to prepare for and what to do during a divorce trial.
Very few cases actually go to trial. Many cases that are set for trial, settle a day or two before trial or in the morning on the day of trial. However, if you have a trial date, you can’t assume your case will settle. You need to be ready to put on your case at the start of the trial.
The various counties have different local rules and procedures when it comes to going to trial. In this video, we are going to describe common procedures, but if your case is going to go to trial, you should read the local rules for your county regarding trials in family law cases. You also may want to consider meeting with a local family law attorney and pay for an hour of his or her time to get a basic description of pre-trial and trial procedures for your particular county.
If your case does not settle at the settlement conference, there is a good chance at the time the court assigns a trial date, the court will give you written instructions setting forth the court’s rules describing what documents you need to file with the court and serve on the other side before the trial begins. These instructions are commonly called “Pre-Trial Orders” or “Pre-Trial Instructions”.
If you have not already done so, prior to the trial date, you will need to serve your spouse with your “Final Declaration of Disclosure” documents not later than 45 days before the trial.
After you have completed your Final Declaration of Disclosure, file your Income and Expense Declaration with the court. Make sure your FL-150 is “current”, meaning it is dated not more than 90 days before the start of the trial.
You will almost certainly be required to file a “trial brief” with the court and serve a copy on your spouse a certain number of days before trial. Typically, trial briefs are due 2 weeks before trial. Your trial brief will be similar to your Settlement Conference Statement. It goes on 28-line pleading paper, with a caption, and explains to the court what issues have been resolved by agreement, what issues remain in dispute, and what your position is with respect to each issue.
You will likely be required to lodge with the court and serve your spouse with a “trial binder” containing all documents that you intend to offer into evidence during the trial. These documents will be your trial “Exhibits”.
You will likely be required to file with the court and serve on your spouse a certain number of days before trial a witness list. A witness list is typically on 28-line pleading paper with a caption, in which you identify all witnesses you intend to have testify during the trial and includes a very brief description of the general content of their anticipated testimony.
The trial will be in front of a judge, not in front of a jury. If you are the Petitioner, you go first. If you wish, you can make a brief “Opening Statement” where you briefly summarize for the court what the disputed issues are and what evidence you will be presenting. Since you do not have a lawyer, your testimony will not be given by means of a question and answer format with you on the witness stand, which is what takes place during trials as seen on television. Instead, the court clerk will have you take an oath to tell the truth. Then, you will simply tell the judge what you want the judge to know.
Many people that are in pro per will just type up a script or at least an outline of what facts they want the judge to known before the judge decides the case. Practice what you intend to say before the start of the trial.
After you have testified, meaning recited your prepared testimony statement to the judge, you will have an opportunity to call any witnesses you want to present. If you have any witnesses, including you spouse, they will go to the witness stand and take an oath. You will then ask them questions. Your questions and their answers will be evidence the judge will consider.
After you have presented your case, your spouse will have an opportunity to present his or her case, including calling any witnesses, and questioning you.
After both sides have presented their cases to the judge, the judge may or may not give both of you an opportunity to make a closing argument. After that, the case is submitted for the judge to decide.