Present your case at a divorce trial

If you're representing yourself at a divorce trial, here are some guidelines for what to expect and an overview of the rules you'll be expected to follow when presenting your case.

During the trial, each side presents their case

One side, usually the person who asked for the trial, starts first. If they have a witness, they can ask have them testify (answer questions under oath). 

If they have a witness:

  • They start by asking the witness questions 
  • Then the other side can ask the witness questions (called cross-examination)
  • The first side then gets a chance to clarify any answers during cross-examination.

They can also testify themselves. The other side could also ask them questions. They also present any evidence they have.

Once all the first side’s witnesses are called and questioned, the second side gets a turn.

Divorce trials are complicated. If you haven’t, you may want to visit your local law library or your court’s self-help center for recommendations on books and other resources that can help you prepare.

You'll be expected to follow the evidence code

There are rules for how you ask questions in court and what evidence you can use. These rules are called the California Evidence Code.

You're expected to follow these rules even though you're not a lawyer. 

The judge and the court staff cannot help you prepare or present your case.

A few key rules from the California Evidence Code:

  • Generally, people can only talk about what they know first-hand – what they themselves saw or sometimes heard

  • The other side has the right to cross-examine anyone whose words (whether written or spoken) are being considered

  • All testimony must be relevant information (proves or disproves something that one side needs to prove at trial)

If you don't follow these rules, the other side can object to the judge considering what's being said or presented. If the judge agrees that you didn't follow the rules of evidence the judge won't consider the evidence that you presented to the court. If the other side isn't following these rules, you can also object (tell the judge you object and say why).

You must follow a specific process to share your evidence in court 

First, show the exhibit to your spouse (or their attorney if they have one). 

Next, either you or your witness must testify about the exhibit to show that the evidence is relevant to your case and is authentic (not made up).  

  • Example: Photograph as evidence

    You want to show a photograph of your car. First, the witness must testify that they know what your car looks like (they've seen it and could identify it). Then, you would ask if the photograph is an accurate depiction of that (is it a picture of your car).   

Once you've done that, you ask the court to admit the exhibit into evidence.  

The other party or attorney may object to the exhibit for some reason. Try to answer these objections as best you can.  

Finally, the judge will decide whether to allow the exhibit or not.  

General guidelines for appearing in court 

If you've never been in a courtroom before, you can review some general tips so you know what to expect when you go to the courthouse.

Tips for your day in court

Divorce Trials

What's next?

Once the judge hears both sides argument, the judge will make a decision about how to resolve the issue. This doesn't mean your divorce is final. You still have to write up an agreement based on what the judge decided. 

success alert banner:

Have a question about Divorce?

Look for a "Chat Now" button in the right bottom corner of your screen. If you don’t see it, disable any pop-up/ad blockers on your browser.