Preparing for Trial
In many family law cases, mediation is not successful, and a trial becomes necessary. The word “trial” can often carry a scary connotation, and therefore it is important to take a closer look at what is actually involved in a trial and what to expect.
First, many family law trials are held in the Judge’s chambers. Contrary to courtrooms you see on TV, chambers are typically small rooms with a large table in the middle. The Judge sits at one end of the table, and the parties and their respective attorneys set on either side. Testifying in a setting like this can often be less intimidating than testifying in a “real” courtroom.
A trial is essentially an opportunity for both sides to present relevant evidence and testimony to the Judge. The Judge then decides what he believes or disbelieves, determines the credibility of witnesses, and in general makes findings of fact. A particular issue or piece of evidence that seems important to a party may not be that important or relevant to the Judge. In preparing for trial, you always want to decide what evidence will be most persuasive and can stand up to scrutiny from the other side.
There are several rules of thumb for litigants in a trial (or hearing) setting. First, always dress nicely; appearances can matter, and first impressions are often strong ones. Second, never argue with the Judge or opposing counsel; you will not be doing yourself any favors if you do. Third, always be truthful in your testimony. If you provide untruthful testimony (and get impeached for it), that can dramatically impact your credibility with the Court. Once you lose credibility, your case is all but over with.
Finally, it is important to BE PREPARED. Make sure you review your testimony with your attorney before trial, to eliminate any surprises or areas of confusion. Also make sure to review all evidence that will be submitted, to ensure that nothing has been missed. You only get one shot at trial, and you need to make it count.