Divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences of a person’s life. There are several options for navigating the divorce process, including alternative dispute resolution techniques like mediation. However, these methods are not available to everyone, and exploring mediation requires both spouses’ willingness. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and some divorce cases are so complex that there is no alternative but to litigate.
If you expect to undergo divorce litigation in the near future, there are a few things you should know before the process begins. If you and your spouse have already decided to divorce, and it seems as though civil negotiation in mediation is off the table, you should consult an experienced St. Charles, MO divorce attorney. The right attorney can help you prepare for the next phases of the legal process of divorce.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
You might think that even though your divorce is heading to court, you could save money on legal fees if you represent yourself. However, this is a very risky option. If mediation or collaborative divorce are off the table, you need a legal representative who will help you preserve your best interests. You should go into the divorce process under the assumption that your spouse will have their own attorney and secure legal representation of your own.
Some divorce cases are exceedingly complex, such as high-net-worth divorce. In these situations, having legal representation on your side is an invaluable asset. Your attorney can help you procure expert witnesses like forensic accountants to assist in your case, helping to ensure you reach a fair outcome.
The Divorce Discovery Process
A divorce case is a civil case, so when a divorce goes to trial, it will proceed along similar lines to many other civil cases. One of the most important phases of divorce litigation is the pretrial discovery process. As the name suggests, discovery allows each party in a civil case to extract information from the other. You and your current spouse each have the right to request material evidence and documentation from one another.
Your attorney can help you ensure you meet all discovery requirements and verify that your spouse and their legal team have done the same. Discovery can be one of the most difficult and time-consuming phases of divorce litigation, but it is vital for ensuring a fair and reasonable outcome.
Lay and Expert Witnesses
You and your spouse both have the right to call witnesses to testify in court during a divorce case. This includes people who know you and can testify about specific aspects of your marriage. These are generally “lay,” or non-expert, witnesses, and they may only testify concerning facts, not opinions. For example, a family friend or neighbor could provide testimony that concerns you and your spouse’s respective fitness as parents based on things they have seen and heard.
In some cases, your attorney may coordinate expert witness testimony on your behalf. Unlike lay witnesses, expert witnesses can offer professional opinions relevant to your case. You may require the assistance of an expert witness with a professional background in finance to settle complex financial issues in your divorce case or a social worker to enter an opinion about child custody issues. Social workers, forensic accountants, and medical experts are just a few examples of the expert witnesses who may come into play in a complicated divorce case.
The discovery process is typically long and arduous, but there are more difficult steps you must complete before you go to trial. Pretrial motions typically take place following discovery. These motions may pertain to the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence, or the court may require you and your spouse to attend specific classes or counseling sessions.
Preparing Your Testimony
Before your case proceeds to trial, your St. Charles, MO divorce attorney must prepare you and any witnesses for the courtroom. In most cases, preparation involves explaining what the court will ask and anticipating how you will answer. However, the attorney must take care during this process to avoid “coaching,” or directly instructing witnesses how they should respond. As a result, your spouse’s attorney has the right to ask what your witnesses discussed with your attorney. They must answer truthfully under penalty of perjury, and it will hurt your case if the court discovers they were coached in their responses.
Your attorney will also help you prepare your testimony by covering the various legal statutes and laws that will come into play during divorce litigation. Every request you intend to make to the judge will hinge on specific legal factors, and it is up to you and your attorney to identify those factors and address each of them as fully as possible.
Settlement is almost always preferable to a trial in any civil case, including your divorce case. Your attorney and your spouse’s attorney will remain in contact during pretrial phases up until the trial date, and your attorney has a legal duty to pass on any settlement offer extended by the other party. Settlement negotiations at this phase could potentially lead to a speedier resolution than a trial would allow, but at this stage, there is no guarantee that your spouse will be willing to settle.
Your Trial Date
When your trial date arrives, your St. Charles, MO divorce lawyer will provide you with detailed instructions to ensure you meet your court appearance on time and fully prepared. Once the court calls your case, you will proceed to the front of the courtroom, and court officials will swear in your witnesses. The witnesses must remain outside until called, which may require significant waiting time. It is not uncommon for a divorce case to last more than one day, and you should expect to be working closely with your attorney each evening to prepare rebuttals and supplementary evidence before the next day’s proceedings.
Ultimately, the divorce litigation process can be extremely challenging in many ways. It is time-consuming, more expensive than mediation, and results in a judgment that is well outside of your control. If alternative dispute resolution is not possible in your situation, explain it to your attorney. You should secure legal representation from an experienced St. Charles, MO divorce attorney so you can prepare as fully as possible.