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Going to Family Court: What to Expect
Most people spend their lives hoping to never have to go to court. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a reality. When it comes to a divorce, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to go before a judge to settle your family law matters, including child custody and child support.
Having to go to court isn’t negative against you or a judgment on your personal character. Instead, think of going to court as your legal way of standing up for your rights and the rights of your family.
With this in mind, it’s important to know what to expect. As your court date approaches, you might feel a surge in anxiety and stress. Let’s ease your anxiety by explaining what you’ll likely experience.
New Jersey Family Court: What Should I Expect?
Usually, the first step in the process is to settle your custody or divorce issues privately with your ex. If you can’t do that, then you’ll have to go to court. During the hearing, both you and your ex will get to present your arguments to the judge.
The judge takes any evidence presented and then issues a ruling. If there are multiple issues involved in the proceeding (such as custody, child support, alimony, and other possible topics), this hearing may take several days, or the process may even be divided to handle each issue separately.
Timeline for Your Case to Go to Court
The timeline can vary depending on the county and court and other circumstances. For instance, a case involving domestic violence claims is usually fast-tracked and will start within about 10 days. The main delays in getting a trial started are obtaining legal representation as well as discovery, the process of obtaining evidence, and interviewing potential witnesses.
Once the trial starts, you can expect it to last two to three days. Each day’s hearing will last about three hours. However, it’s important to remember that yours isn’t the only case on the docket. Because of this, you may have a week or more between each day’s proceedings. It also depends on how busy the court is in hearing other cases.
Preparation for Your Case
The longest part of the divorce process is usually preparing for the case. This can also be the most anxiety-inducing.
An experienced family law attorney can explain exactly what you should expect based on your case’s specific details. Their office will prepare documents as well as gather information and submit the proper legal paperwork. An experienced family law attorney has been through the process many times and can walk you through it, answering any questions you may have along the way.
Your attorney will likely advise you of actions you should and should not take while you wait for your case to be heard. These may include:
- Don’t coach your children or witnesses on what to say in court.
- Don’t say anything negative about your ex to anyone, especially around your children.
- Don’t threaten or talk to your ex.
When it comes to evidence, the judge may ask you to provide a prepared list of your evidence at a pre-trial hearing. This could potentially include:
- Police reports/criminal records
- Photos and videos
- Witnesses you plan to call
- Expert reports, such as from a counselor or psychologist.
When it comes to witnesses, you’ll be able to call those you know and those who can provide testimony about behaviors they’ve seen. Your attorney may also call other witnesses such as a guardian ad litem (if your case involves one) or expert testimony. Your attorney will also meet with your witnesses ahead of time to determine exactly what information they can add to the case.
Who and What You Might See in Family Court
Inside the courtroom, you’ll be seated at a table with your attorney. Your ex will sit at a separate table with their attorney. Of course, the judge will be present as will a bailiff and court reporter/stenographer. There may also be a court clerk present in the room along with the guardian ad litem.
In most cases, you can also ask other adults to join you by sitting in the back of the courtroom for moral support. However, witnesses and children aren’t allowed to sit in. If their testimony is required, they’ll be called in from the waiting room and then excused when done.
Advice Your Attorney Likely Will Give You
It’s important to listen to the valuable, experienced advice your attorney gives you. They know your case best and want the best outcome for you. Advice you’re likely to hear from your attorney will probably include:
1. Stay organized and keep all info and evidence available when court personnel request it.
2. Arrive early to avoid any potential traffic issues and so you can meet with your attorney for last-minute check-in.
3. Dress appropriately (business dress or business casual).
4. Be respectful of everyone, including your ex and their witnesses.
5. Don’t speak unless you’re asked a specific question either by the judge or your attorney.
6. When speaking, enunciate clearly and calmly.
7. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Remember, an angry outburst could result in a contempt citation.
The Process Inside the Courtroom
It’s so important to hire an experienced lawyer because they already know the process of the trial and how to handle it. If you don’t have an attorney, you’ll have to do all of this yourself.
The trial will start with opening statements from the plaintiff’s attorney. (This is the spouse who brought the original complaint.) Then, the defendant presents their opening statement. This gives both sides a chance to lay out their arguments to the court.
Next, the plaintiff’s attorney will call witnesses. (Usually, the first witness will be the plaintiff.) Following the questions asked by their attorney, the defense attorney will get to cross-examine. This continues with all the plaintiff’s witnesses.
Once all the plaintiff’s witnesses are called, they’ll rest their case. Then, the process begins again with the defendant calling witnesses and the plaintiff getting to cross-examine. When this is finished and both sides have rested, they’ll present a summation of their arguments in closing statements.
The judge will then take a few days to consider all the testimony. They may also privately meet with the children to gain their perspective. Finally, the judge will issue their decision to the parties. If one of the parties disagrees with the verdict, they have 45 days to appeal the decision. Otherwise, this will be the final decree unless one of the parties takes the other back to court for an adjustment to the order.
Knowing What to Expect Can Reduce Stress
No one will deny that going to court is stressful. But, as with any experience, knowing what to expect helps to demystify the process to remove as much of the anxiety as possible.
Contact the Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.