Once you and your spouse decide to divorce, you’ll go through many emotions as you go through the process. You might be elated that you finally made the decision. You may also feel a sense of loss, especially if you were married for many years. Those feelings are normal.
Most people have a general idea of what happens during the divorce process, but you may not know what happens at a final divorce hearing.
If your divorce is not contested, which means that you agree to everything and sign a settlement agreement, the final hearing may not be necessary at all.
If your divorce is contested, which means that you cannot agree on at least one item, the final hearing lasts longer—a few hours to a couple of days, depending on your situation.
What Happens at a Final Divorce Hearing
Before you attend your divorce hearing, you will meet with your divorce attorney. The lawyer will explain the process to you.
They will likely review the pending pleadings with you, review the exhibits with you, explain the procedures during the hearing, explain what to expect during your direct examination, explain what to expect during, and discuss how final ruling is entered.
Before the final hearing starts, the court will swear you in. You pledge to tell the truth at the hearing during your swearing-in.
Final Divorce Hearing
If you agreed to specific terms and have a partial settlement agreement, you will not have to discuss those items included in the agreement. The court only hears testimony on issues you and your spouse were not able to agree upon.
In family law cases that include minor children, the court will determine how much child support each spouse pays. Arizona statutes dictate how much each minor child needs to live per month and determines the base amount your child requires to live each month.
Child custody, known in Arizona as legal decision-making and parenting time, is determined in the best interests of the minor child. The court will hear evidence on this topic to determine the parenting time schedule and legal decision-making designation.
Alimony (Know in Arizona as Spousal Maintenance)
Spousal support, often referred to as alimony or maintenance, is ordered in an amount and for a period of time that the court deems just.
This means that the statutes do not provide a formula for figuring the amount of alimony that the court may award you or your spouse.
Instead, the court looks at several factors, including the length of the marriage and the financial situation of both spouses.
Maintenance is one of the more common reasons parties go to a divorce trial in family court.
Because an award of spousal maintenance is determined after the court considers certain factors and the topic is heavily litigated, it is always best to retain a divorce lawyer for legal advice if you are asking for spousal maintenance or if your spouse is asking for maintenance.
Tips for Getting Through Your Hearing
Going through a final hearing is stressful for many people because you don’t know what the court may decide. Being prepared for the divorce trial helps your case.
Be Prepared to Spend All Day in Court
A third party—the judge—has to make some decisions for you.
While it may seem like it would be a simple decision on which spouse gets the kids, who gets the house, and other decisions, you must remember that it’s not that simple for the judge.
You know your case while the judge is new to your case. Even if you have been before the same judge on another issue, the judge still hasn’t seen everything in your case with the exception of a review of the case prior to the trial.
On top of understanding what is going on with your case, the judge listens to your side and your spouse’s side, then reviews evidence, case law and statutes before making a decision.
Many courts expect you to dress appropriately—usually as if you were going to an office job. If you have only jeans, that is fine as long as the shirt you choose is dress casual. Most courts will not allow you to wear shorts or ragged clothes.
Know the Rules for Entering the Courthouse
All courthouses have rules. Knowing them before you enter will save you a lot of added stress. Most will not allow any weapons, including knives.
You most likely have to go through a metal detector. If you usually carry a knife, be sure to leave it at home. You will not be permitted to enter the courthouse with “contraband.”
Know Your Case
The court will ask you to testify to many parts of your life, depending on what it must decide. If you are asking for or fighting spousal maintenance, the court may ask you more about your personal finances.
If you are battling for custody of the children, you may have to answer questions about your schedule, how much time you spend with the children before you separated and even how much you contributed to their daily lives by attending events with them, taking them to doctors’ appointments or even shopping for them.
Understand Court Protocol
Always refer to the judge as “Your Honor.” If the judge asks you a direct yes or no answer, you would answer “Yes (or no), Your Honor.”
Some divorces are very contentious—the couple cannot stand to be in the same room with each other. If this is you, ignore your spouse, even if he or she attempts to “push your buttons.” Keep your voice modulated and do not respond to outbursts from your spouse.
Stay on Point If You Testify
Always answer questions posed to you in a succinct manner. If the question is a yes or no question, answer with yes or no. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let the judge or your spouse’s attorney ask for more information if they want it. Keep your answers short and to the point. Only give them the information they request.
You may feel like a yes or no answer isn’t fair and makes the answer to the question appear worse than it is. Your attorney will discuss with you your ability to provide more information in situations like this through follow up questions.
If you don’t understand a question, always ask for clarification. Never assume you know what the judge or your spouse’s attorney means if there is a possibility that anyone may interpret your answer in more than one way.
You want to be sure that you are giving correct information. Often, you may provide more information than is necessary if you do not answer the question correctly.