Getting your Family Law Case Ready for Trial

May 17, 2024

This article is meant to be a guide, not a checklist, or comprehensive checklist, of what should be done in a case before trial.

Before I launch into the list, there are a few things to keep in mind.

This guide should be used at the start of a case. In fact, we try to make it a practice to start our mandatory settlement conference briefs, which may need to be converted to trial briefs, on day one of a divorce or paternity case. Next, for every day of trial expect at least 2-3 days of preparation time. If your trial is set for four days, expect at least 12 full days of preparation time. Why? Discovery must be propounded such as subpoenas, demand for production of documents and special interrogatories to secure documents needed to prove your matter at trial.

Next, the opening statement, direct examination and cross-examination of each witness, and closing statement must be crafted and practiced with each witness. Exhibit lists with the exhibits must be put together and all exhibits must be checked to make sure they are admissible. Witness lists must also be finalized.

Finally, the trial brief must be finalized. If the case proceeded to a Mandatory Settlement Conference and the settlement was not successful, then the mediation brief must be converted to a trial brief and include more substantial legal arguments.

Now, to the guide. The questions you, your attorney and team need to ask yourselves at the start of a case and certainly before trial are as follows:

1. Who do we need to testify?

2. Do we need to subpoena any witnesses?

3. What evidence do we need?

4. How will we get the evidence in?

5. Following with those questions, do we need to conduct further discovery?

6. Do we have any issues that require us to consult with an appellate specialist now?

7. Are there any motions in limine that we need to file?

8. Are there any other pre-trial motions that we need to consider such as an alternate valuation date?

9. Do we need to order a court reporter now?

10. Is there prior discovery that we need to use for impeachment?

11. Do we need to prepare a statement of decision now?

12. The attorney and client must review all previous filings and discovery responses as well as all prior court orders to make sure the direct examinations, cross-examinations and trial brief are comprehensive.

While it is the goal of my firm at the start to try and settle every case; sometimes, this goal cannot be achieved. Sometimes there are issues in the case that are so time sensitive and contentious such as child custody, child support and spousal support, control of property, determination of the character of property and division of property , attorney’s fees and costs…etc. that there needs to be at least one hearing. Sometimes, these issues result in a trial. For the cases that we cannot settle, our goal is to win for our client and as the old saying goes “prior preparation prevents poor performance:” you cannot prepare enough for the mandatory settlement conference and, even more so, for trial.

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This material is provided for educational purposes only. Providing this information does not establish an attorney/client relationship. None of the information contained in this newsletter should be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Should you have questions about the content of this newsletter, please arrange to discuss via a consultation.