How to Prepare for Your Divorce Hearing in Salt Lake City

You and your spouse have decided to end your marriage, and now, the date of your divorce trial is rapidly approaching.  How should you get ready?  What’s going to take place leading up to the trial?  What are the Utah court rules?  It’s normal to feel nervous and full of questions, especially if you have never been divorced before and don’t know to what to expect.  In this article, Salt Lake City divorce attorney Darwin Overson will explain the basics of what will take place and how to get ready.

The Divorce Process in Utah: Before the Trial

Before we start talking about tips and strategies for preparing, let’s rewind to cover the typical legal process leading up to a Utah divorce hearing.

Divorce can be either contested, or uncontested.  In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree about how major issues like child support, child custody, and division of property should be handled.  There is no significant dispute or debate in need of resolution, which generally means that the case will be concluded that much more smoothly and rapidly.

Needless to say, contested divorce cases are typically more complex, contentious, and time-consuming.  In situations where the spouses cannot agree on, for example, a child custody plan, the courts will be forced to intervene and issue their own orders, to which both parties will be bound.

When you serve or are served with divorce papers, there is a 21-day deadline to respond (which is extended to 30 days for persons served outside the state of Utah).  If the respondent fails to respond within this 21- to 30-day deadline, the court can then grant the petitioning spouse a “default judgment.”  If this occurs, the respondent will lose his or her ability to contest the petitioner’s allegations and/or demands, and the divorce will be granted.

Divorce trials are not always necessary, even in cases where matters like alimony are initially contested.  In fact, the Utah court system takes special measures specifically to help divorcing couples avoid having to go to trial, as litigation can be expensive, disruptive, and emotionally draining for all parties involved (in addition to taking up space on the court’s already congested calendar).  Toward the goal of avoiding trial, the judiciary requires mandatory mediation in cases involving contested issues.  Mediation is a relatively informal process which takes place with a qualified mediator, whose role is to help each party compromise on a mutually acceptable agreement.

Sometimes, mediation is sufficient to end the dispute.  However, if mediation proves unable to settle the disagreement(s), then the spouses must go to trial.

gavel on its side with american flag background

Courtroom Etiquette: How to Behave During Your Hearing

Before the trial itself begins, you and your spouse will be required to attend a pretrial conference with your West Valley divorce lawyers. You can think of the pretrial hearing like one, final attempt to resolve the contested issues prior to going to trial.  The pretrial conference takes place before a judge (or a court commissioner, depending on the county).

You should also be advised that if your case involves a  child custody dispute, the judge has the power to order a child custody evaluation – even if neither party files a motion.  If this occurs, you and your spouse are each responsible for paying part of the evaluation cost.

Pretrial conferences and custody evaluations aside, let’s cover some tips on how you should behave at your trial.  Courts have extremely strict procedural rules and codes of conduct with which you must comply.  Respecting court rules will help to reflect positively on your case.

As you’re probably aware, courts are extremely rigid in terms of times, dates, and scheduling. Court hearings are not like doctor’s appointments which can be rescheduled at a whim: you must appear as, where, and when ordered.

Treat your hearing like going to the airport.  Take care to arrive early, at least 30 minutes in advance, so that you have ample time to go through security screening.  If you wouldn’t bring it to an airport, don’t bring it to court: that includes drugs, weapons, and any other contraband.  If you normally wear belts or jewelry, try to look for something without metal to simplify the security process.  On a related note, you should dress professionally, as though you were going to a job interview.  Be sure to make yourself look as neat, clean, and presentable as possible.

During the trial itself, be sure to obey all instructions you are given.  Do not try to speak while others are speaking: you will have your turn.  Emotions can flare, especially when one spouse says something the other disagrees with – but it is crucially important to keep your temper under control.  Do not shout at your spouse or his or her attorney.  Address only the judge, only when called upon, and refer to him or her as “Your Honor.” Judges understand that most people become nervous and flustered in a courtroom setting, especially in emotional issues like divorce.  Don’t worry about crying, blushing, stuttering, or getting confused – just do your best to give a courteous and honest accounting.  If you don’t understand a question, indicate politely that you need clarification.

Your family law attorney will help coach you before the trial takes place.  You can read more about Utah courtroom etiquette on the judiciary’s official website.

Even after the trial process concludes, your divorce is not official until it is finalized with a formal divorce decree.  The judge must sign the decree before you are considered legally divorced in Utah. The court clerk will send you a copy of the judgment for your records.

Last but not least, you may be contacted by a Utah state government agency to supply some statistical divorce data.

If you’re considering filing for divorce in Utah, or if you’ve been served with papers, you need experienced and compassionate legal representation on your side.  To set up a free and completely confidential case evaluation, call attorney Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287.