What to expect at trial

Most cases are settled before they reach a final trial, and for good reason. Trials are emotional, unpredictable and costly. However, sometimes a settlement simply cannot be reached despite the efforts of the parties and their attorneys. If your case does not settle, what can you expect at trial?

Ten days before your trial begins, your attorney will exchange Pretrial documents with your spouse’s attorney, including sworn Financial Affidavits, Proposed Orders, Witness Lists, Exhibit Lists, and lists of Pending Motions. This pretrial exchange of materials is intended to streamline the trial so that the Judge and the parties know in advance which documents will be offered as evidence, the witnesses who will testify, the relief either party is requesting, and the issues that need to be resolved by the Judge’s Orders.

It is occasionally necessary for a Judge to resolve specific issues before the Trial officially starts. For example, if there is a question about the admissibility of evidence related to an expert witness, your attorney may file a Motion in Limine or a Pretrial Motion that is argued before the start of your Trial.

In Connecticut, we do not have jury trials in divorce cases. Your divorce case will be presented to and decided by a Judge. The Courtroom is typically open to the public during your trial. Accordingly, you can expect that strangers may be sitting in the courtroom and watching your case!

On the first day of Trial, your attorney can ask for permission to make an opening statement. The opening statement is an overview of the facts and evidence that you will present during the trial. It is an opportunity for your attorney to tell the story of your case in a non-argumentative, but persuasive, manner. If you are the Plaintiff, your attorney will present the first opening statement.

As the Plaintiff, you will then present your case in chief to the Court.  Your attorney will call upon your witnesses to testify on your behalf, through direct examination. Witnesses who testify at your trial will either be considered fact witnesses— someone who testifies about things they have personally observed that are helpful to your case, or expert witnesses—someone with a special skill or knowledge who can assist the Judge in understanding the evidence of the case. Your attorney will choose the order of the witnesses who testify on your behalf, including the order of experts or the Guardian Ad Litem, if custody is at issue.

When your attorney is finished questioning a witness, your spouse’s attorney will have the chance to ask questions. This is called cross examination. During cross examination the attorney will try to discredit the witness or highlight any inconsistencies in the witness’s testimony. The attorney may ask leading questions, a question that prompts or encourages the intended answer.

When direct and cross examination of your witnesses is completed, it becomes your spouse’s, the Defendant’s, turn to present his or her case in chief. Your spouse’s witnesses will be called upon to testify and the same protocol is followed, each attorney is able to question the witnesses, through either direct examination or cross examination.

Next, each attorney will have the opportunity to present a closing argument to the Judge. The closing argument is your attorney’s chance to make persuasive arguments on your behalf, to tell the Judge what you want and highlight the evidence that supports your position.

The length of Trial will depend upon several factors, such as the number of witnesses, the complexity of the issues involved and, perhaps most significantly, the Court’s schedule and availability. Trials can last anywhere from a few hours to weeks. It is often hard to predict exactly when the trial will be concluded because legal and scheduling issues sometimes arise in the midst of the case.

At the end of trial, the Judge may ask for post-trial briefs, particularly if there are complex issues or complicated facts. Once the briefs are submitted to the Court, the Judge has 120 days to issue a decision. If the Court does not require briefs, the 120 days runs from the last day of trial.