Understanding the Process of a Los Angeles Divorce Trial

Understanding the Process of a Los Angeles Divorce Trial

Overview of a California Dissolution of Marriage and the Divorce Trial Process in Los Angeles County Family Law Courts

A divorce trial in Los Angeles County trial requires experienced legal representation from a divorce lawyer. There is simply too much at stake. Your attorney must have clear knowledge of California family law, an understanding of the evidence and facts they want to use in the courtroom, and how to apply it to your goals. A Los Angeles divorce trial also requires realistic expectations. Any divorce lawyer who starts making frivolous claims, without anyDivorce Trial Process in Los Angeles legal or factual support, could expose the spouse they are representing to court sanctions. Making that decision to take your divorce case to trial is a big decision that should be thoroughly reviewed with your attorney. It’s true that divorce trials in Los Angeles County are not common. Most divorces are finalized without a trial. Our Los Angeles divorce lawyers are frequently asked if they should settle their divorce or go to trial. Many believe a settlement is always better in a divorce. Is that true? Not always. Any fair settlement in a divorce case means it’s consistent with the law and facts. When a fair settlement can’t be reached between the spouses on some or all the major divorce issues, it will go to trial. Typically, there will be a pretrial conference to ensure both spouses are ready to proceed to trial, including the exchange of trial documents. If you are thinking about representing yourself in trial, then you are making a big mistake. Before a judge sets a trail date, they will want to know the estimated length of the trial.  If there are child custody, child support, alimony, property division issues that need to be decided in trial, then the length of the trail will take much longer. In other words, the more complex the issues are being taken to trial, the longer the trial. Complex trials will always have more documents and more witnesses.  Divorce trails don’t typically have a jury as the judge will make the final decisions. Delays are not uncommon in Los Angeles divorce trials. If you are unable to reach a divorce settlement with your spouse, then you may have no other option than to proceed to trial in court. Before making this decision, you need to consult with a Los Angeles divorce lawyer at Furman & Zavatsky LLP. You will need experienced and skilled legal representation for the best chance of success. Whether or not your divorce case will actually end up in trial, we highly encourage you to set up a divorce case strategy session with our family law firm. Every divorce case is unique and requires a close examination of all the facts and circumstances in order to develop an effective strategy. As stated above, it’s critical to note it would be very unwise for you to decide to represent yourself. Now that we have covered a general overview of a divorce trial in Los Angeles, let’s take a closer examination of the divorce process, including setting a divorce case for trial.  Our law firm serves clients throughout Los Angeles County from our office in San Fernando Valley, California.

Divorce Overview

The California divorce process begins with an initial filing followed by numerous steps and procedures ending in a trial. Questions and apprehensions are common, but our experienced Los Angeles divorce attorneys can guide you along the way. Understanding your rights and obligations can help you know what to expect and mistakes to avoid. Divorce or dissolution of a marriage restores both parties to their single status. The process may involve the following court-issued orders:

  • Spousal Support
  • Community and Separate Property
  • Community and Separate Debt
  • If children are involved: Custody, Visitation, Child Support
  • Summary Dissolution of Marriage

An initial filing must occur by one spouse (the petitioner), followed by service of specific paperwork to the other spouse (the respondent). A filing fee is required of both spouses at the time of their individual filing. A waiver application is available if you are low income and unable to pay. If the respondent fails to file the required paperwork in response within 30 days of the service, the petitioner may request the court enter the case in default. From there, the case can be completed without the respondent’s participation. If the respondent does file the necessary paperwork, the case moves forward as either contested or uncontested.

An uncontested divorce can occur when the parties agree on all issues. A judgment is then prepared by the parties and submitted to the court for signature. A contested divorce occurs when the parties are unable to agree on some or all of the issues of the case. All unresolved issues must be settled by the court in a separate trial. A few of the issues that a court can decide separately are:

  • Permanent child custody
  • Permanent child visitation
  • Date the parties separated
  • Terminating marital status (dissolution of the marriage or legal separation)
  • Whether the prenuptial agreement is valid

Divorce Case Set for Trial

If a case is contested, a trial date will be set to finalize the divorce. Generally, a trial will only be scheduled after all other settlement options have failed (mediation with a third party and/or settlement conference with a judge). Almost every divorce trial is heard before a judge as opposed to a jury. The length of the trial depends upon the complexity of your disputed issues, number of witnesses you intend to testify, number of exhibits for the judge to review, etc. If parties are unable to complete the testimony and evidence in the allotted time, the judge will declare a mistrial, and the trial will have to start over at another date.

Pre-trail Orders

Most counties require you to prepare a specific set of pre-trial orders. These orders must be exchanged with the other party and also filed with the court. These include:

  • List of Exhibits – this includes all documentation you intend to present as evidence at the trial
  • Exhibits – such as records, photographs, letters, etc.
  • List of Witnesses – this includes all people you intend to bring before the judge at trial
  • Trial Brief – summarizes the issues before the court, facts, and law supporting your position on the issues

Divorce Trial Process

The Los Angeles divorce trial begins with the judge confirming that both parties are prepared to proceed with the trial and are ready with all exhibits, witnesses, and paid trial fees. The petitioner brings their case before the court first, followed by the respondent. The process generally proceeds as follows:

  1. Opening Statement – provides an oral roadmap with a factual summary of the case (not required)
  2. Testimony – each witness gives direct testimony with the opposing side given a chance for cross-examination
  3. Closing Argument – provides an explanation of how all facts, law, and evidence presented works together in favor of your case

At the conclusion of the case, the judge will make a decision on all issues before the court and sign a judgment. The divorce is then finalized with a Notice of Entry of Judgment issued by the court clerk.

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney

If you and your spouse are trying to work together for the benefit of yourselves and your children, there is nothing worse than extending the divorce and custody process because you have failed to follow the necessary steps and obligations to complete your divorce. Accordingly, it is always advisable to contact a Los Angeles family law attorney to ensure that you understand all of your rights before filing for divorce and proceeding through a possible trial. At Furman & Zavatsky LLP, our Los Angeles divorce attorneys have the experienced you need to assist you with the California divorce process. Our lawyers can help you determine whether settlement or litigation is the best choice for you. Contact our law firm for a free consultation at 818-528-3471.