What to know about a divorce trial

If you and your spouse cannot agree about all the issues in your divorce, you can ask for a trial. At a trial, a judge will hear both your sides, listen to witnesses, review evidence, and make a decision.

Alternatives to a trial

Divorce trials typically happen when you can't agree on a complicated issue or multiple issues in your divorce. For example, you disagree about your date of separation, who will live in the house, and think the other person is hiding their income, then you may need a trial. These are complicated issues. 

You may be able to ask a judge to decide an issue without having a full divorce trial.

For some issues you may not need a trial. For example, if you agree about everything else, but can't agree about child support (and your finances are pretty straight forward), you could ask a judge to decide the issue at a hearing by filing a Request for Order.

These are usually shorter and less complicated than a trial. If the judge can decide the issue in a hearing, then you and your spouse could use that decision along with your agreement to complete your divorce.  

See the Request for Order Process

Preparing for a trial

If you need to have a trial, there are several steps you'll need to take to get ready.

  • Set a trial date

  • Complete your final financial disclosures

  • Go to a settlement conference

  • Research the law

  • Gather evidence

  • Making formal requests for information from your spouse (conduct discovery)

  • Ask witnesses to come to court (issue a subpoena)

  • Plan what you'll tell the judge (your own testimony)

You may need to prepare a trial brief.

Often, while you are preparing, you and your spouse may reach an agreement. If that happens, you can settle your case without having a trial.

Get help

There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for a trial. This section walks you through many of these steps. But, you may find that you need additional help.

Get help with trial preparation from a lawyer

Even if you can’t afford a lawyer for your whole case, it usually makes sense to get help to prepare for a trial. Lawyers can:

  • Give you advice about what is likely to happen at a trial

  • Help you figure out whether it makes sense to settle

  • Help you figure out what witnesses or evidence will prove your case

  • Write or review your trial brief

A local law library may have good resources

They have books for people who are not attorneys that explain many of these steps in more detail. A law librarian may be able to help you find templates or show you how to do research.

Some Court Self-Help Centers or Family Law Facilitators can assist

Some courts' Family Law Facilitators or Self-Help Centers offer workshops or even have one on one help to offer you information about how to prepare for your trial. Even if they don’t, you should become familiar with their services because they can answer basic questions that may come up.

At a glance

Divorce Trials

This shows the basic steps you'll follow if you need to go to trial to finalize your divorce. Go to any step to get more detailed instructions.

  • Complete pre-trial activities

    First, you'll set a trial date and complete several activities required by the court. This includes sharing financial information and attending a settlement conference.

     

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  • Prepare for your trial

    You'll need to decide how to make your case to the judge for what you want. This includes preparing your own testimony as well as gathering other types of information as evidence that supports your case.

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  • Present your case at trial

    You'll present your case, as well as any evidence you have, to the judge. Even if you don't have a lawyer, you're expected to follow court rules and procedures.

     

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  • Finish your divorce after the trial

    At the end of the trial, the judge will make a decision about all of the issues. Once this happens, you prepare the paperwork to finalize your divorce.

     

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