Whether you are seeking a divorce or litigating over custody and child support, the thought of going to trial can be stressful. The good news is that the vast majority of family law cases settle at some point prior to trial. However, if parties are not willing to settle, either because one or both of them are not willing to compromise, then a trial becomes necessary.
Most family law cases are heard by a judge. For divorce cases in Georgia, however, the case can be tried by jury, though the jury cannot decide custody. While jury trials can sometimes be useful, they drive up the costs and duration of trial, so most divorces are tried by a judge.
During a trial, you will have the opportunity to testify. For most people, this can be nerve-wracking – especially when the other attorney cross-examines you – but your attorney will work with you in advance to prepare you to testify. The opposing party will also have a turn to testify, and your attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine them. Both parties are also able to call witnesses. Absent a few exceptions, witnesses must be present in court and cannot submit a written statement in lieu of testifying. Your attorney will work with you to decide which witnesses to call. You might have 50 friends who would love to testify to what a great person you are, but if they do not have direct knowledge of the relevant facts in the case, they are not going to make good witnesses.
In addition to calling witnesses, each side gets to present physical evidence, which could include documents, tape recordings, video recordings, or other tangible items. These days, so much of our lives are captured through social media, text messages, and email. With this volume of potential evidence, your attorney will assess what is useful to present in court. Sometimes, evidence that seems to demonstrate something so clearly to you does not come across that way to a third party and would not help your case with the judge.
Georgia law does not limit the number of witnesses you can call or amount evidence you can present; however, not everything is admissible in trial. For example, a judge may determine a witness’ testimony is irrelevant (and therefore, inadmissible) or that a witness is repeating hearsay rather than a first-hand account. At the end of the day, if there is contradictory testimony, the judge will make a determination as to whose testimony is credible.
Before heading to court, clients may believe that their trial will resemble something they have seen on television. In real life, it is much less dramatic. A family law trial is highly structured and subject to Georgia laws and rules of procedure. Although there are often a lot of emotions and history in a family law case, surprisingly, many of those are not relevant to the decisions the court has to make, and your attorney may not address them at trial.
The overall length of a family law trial can vary from as little as a few hours to several days or more. It all depends on the complexity of the issues being decided in the case. At the end of it, the judge typically tells you what his or her ruling is before you leave the courtroom. Occasionally, however, the judge will reserve ruling, and you will not find out his or her decision until later.
A trial is a complex process and requires lots of preparation. If you are in family law litigation, you should secure counsel you are comfortable with well before your trial date. If you need help with your family law case, contact Porchlight at (678) 435-9069 or schedule a consultation here.