Throughout the divorce process, there are a number of times that you might have to appear in Court. Regularly scheduled “hearings” and status conferences may require your appearance in Court. Whether you need the Court to hold these hearings or status conferences will depend on your facts and how your case proceeds—as uncontested or with disputed issues upon which you and your spouse don’t agree. If you reach a settlement at any stage of your case, you may avoid these hearings. However, it takes both sides to settle a case and neither side can demand or force a settlement.
One of the first times you will confront the possibility of having to be in Court for a hearing is the Temporary Orders Hearing. This hearing occurs early in the case (usually within the first 2-4 months) and the purpose is to ensure that temporarily (while the case is pending) each side has sufficient money for living expenses and payment of monthly bills, or decide which party will be residing in the home or moving out, or decide who will drive which car and have temporary possession of personal and household property, and of course, what the parenting time and custody schedule will be while the divorce is pending.
But not every case requires a Temporary Orders Hearing. If you and your spouse have come to an agreement that covers the issues mentioned here, and if you are both abiding by that agreement, a hearing won’t be necessary. Your attorney can write up the agreement, and all parties and attorneys sign the agreement and file it with the Court. Once the Court approves it, the Temporary Orders come into being without any Court appearances or hearings. It can all be done by paperwork.
If there is no agreement, though, and you or your spouse need money to pay bills or need to decide who will be leaving the house, taking care of the children, etc. a Temporary Orders Hearing will be necessary. A Temporary Orders Hearing is a mini-trial, it takes about an hour, and it looks just like a trial on TV. There will be a Magistrate at the head of the room on “the bench” and a “witness box”—which is a booth with a chair and table with a microphone built in—at which the witnesses and parties will sit when testifying. You will be sworn in and your testimony starts with your attorney asking you questions.
Your attorney may also have you look at “Exhibits”. Exhibits are documents you have given your attorney that prove your testimony. For example, you can tell the Magistrate how much you earn from your job but your income can be proven with an Exhibit of your pay statements or tax returns Your monthly bills can be proven by having copies of those bills as Exhibits. You will have already provided these documents to your attorney because they are required to be submitted and exchanged as part of the disclosure process—where each of you must disclose and exchange all financial information.
When your attorney has finished asking you questions, the opposing attorney (or your spouse if there is no attorney representing your spouse) will ask you questions. This is called cross-examination. It can be intimidating, but you should try to answer the opposing attorney or your spouse with the same honesty and respect you used to answer questions from your own attorney. When this is finished, there may be witnesses that you planned to present. Sometimes a medical provider will testify to an issue of disability or capacity to care for children.
Sometimes a friend or family member will testify as to you or your spouse’s abilities as a parent. Frequently, however, there is insufficient time to present a witness. One hour for a hearing that involves testimony and cross-examination of two witnesses is not nearly enough as is. Your family law attorney will have to significantly narrow the issues and be very succinct with proving the issues for which you want Court Orders. Otherwise, the Magistrate will announce that the time allotted has expired and that will be the end of your presentation of evidence.
When the testimony is completed, the Magistrate will usually announce the Temporary Orders immediately. Listen closely as these are the Court Orders that will rule your daily existence for the next few months—until the divorce is final. The attorneys will be writing furiously to capture all that is ordered because it is usually the attorneys that draft and file the written Court Orders.
You will receive from your attorney a copy of the written Court Orders, so you can have them as a reference. Also, you should be able to contact your attorney anytime you have questions about how the Temporary Orders affect any particular situation. The Temporary Orders will be in place until a permanent order (when the divorce is made final) or some other interim order replaces it.