How to Prepare for a Divorce Trial

By Beverly Bird

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When two people weave all aspects of their lives together in marriage, separating the strands so they can divorce can be a complex process. Some issues between you might be crossed off the list right away, such as who keeps the cat. Other issues may be more contentious. If you can’t come to a settlement, you’ll have to go to trial. You don’t have to try all aspects of your divorce before a judge, just those you haven’t agreed on.

Review your discovery. Make sure you received everything from your spouse that you requested while you were preparing your case. This might include answers to interrogatories or responses to subpoenas you issued to third parties who have information pertinent to your marriage. Pull out anything pertaining to the issues you’ve settled between you and set it aside.

Make copies of the remaining documents and label each one, such as “Plaintiff's Exhibit 1,” if you're the spouse who initiated the divorce. Otherwise, mark them as defendent's exhibits. If you’re representing yourself, you have the right to submit these exhibits to the judge at any point during your trial if they back up the point you’re trying to make. If you have an attorney, commit these exhibits to memory. If he, your spouse’s attorney or the judge ask you about any information they contain, you’ll want the information right on the tip of your tongue.

Create a written trial brief, if you’re representing yourself. Most states require that you submit your brief prior to trial so your judge has a full understanding of the issues that are at stake between you. Tell the judge all the facts of your case, such as when you married, the names and ages of your children and who they've been living with, and how you acquired your assets and debts. Tell him how you think the issues between you should be resolved and why.

Stand in front of a mirror and rehearse your opening statement to the judge, if you’re representing yourself. Your opening statement is an oral rendition of the information you included in your trial brief but relies more heavily on what you want from the divorce, why the judge should award it to you and what witnesses and exhibits you plan to use to support your position. If an attorney represents you, he will make the opening statement for you.

Meet with your witnesses. If you’re representing yourself, go over all the questions you’re going to ask them so you’re sure of their responses. If you have an attorney, make sure their recollection of facts is the same as yours and matches what you’ve told your lawyer.

Practice your own testimony. If you have an attorney, he will probably put you through several dry runs before you take the stand. If you’re representing yourself, your spouse or his attorney will want to question you under oath, so you’ll have to prep on your own. Have family and friends drill you with likely questions. Rehearse how you’ll respond as much as what you're going to say. Practice making your answers as brief and succinct as possible.


Trial rules may vary from state to state. For example, in most states, only a judge hears a divorce trial. Other states have jury trials. If you’re representing yourself, the judge will expect you to know these court rules and procedures. Go to a law library or consult the Internet to bone up on them.