3 Compelling Facts to Consider Prior to a Divorce Trial

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What happens when you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement regarding your divorce settlement? While this scenario does not occur in every case, there are certain circumstances that make negotiating a settlement impossible. One spouse may more stubbornly hold to their opinions, or outside views could influence their willingness to negotiate crucial items from the marriage. When this situation happens, a trial is an inevitable way to solve the conflict.

Before you head to trial, there is a lot of advice surrounding what you should do, how you should act, and what you may experience next.

However, there are definitely a few things you need to think through before allowing your case to go to trial before a judge. What specifics do you need to consider before you head to trial?

A trial is full of risk.

Unlike the other methods of divorce, going to trial leaves your entire settlement up in the air, which puts you and your spouse at the mercy of a judge—with no easily predictable outcome.

Litigation takes away some of the control that you experience from more amicable methods, such as dividing property, assets, and other marital items. Settlements can be decided prior to a trial, which gives you the utmost control over what happens with your finances, your marital home, and the custody of your children.

During a trial, this degree of control is stripped away and handed to a judge, who has the ability to make any decision that he or she chooses. Even if you and your attorney feel that the issues surrounding assets and custody are clear-cut, a judge could make an unforeseen decision.

Laws are in place to safeguard all parties involved in a divorce case, and judges are supposed to remain neutral and objective, while listening to the facts and details of the case. However, the end result still remains uncertain, compared to other methods of divorce.

A trial can put significant strain on your finances.

Divorce is hardly ever an inexpensive process, but heading to trial has the potential to add thousands of dollars onto your final bill. Paying an attorney for their time spent preparing a case, their hours spent in court, court-filing fees, and other items can take a serious toll on your overall finances and rack up an exorbitant bill.

The more items you can settle with your spouse prior to heading to trial, the better your bottom line will be when the divorce is finalized. In advance, consider which items are your biggest priorities. They may include heirloom furniture, sentimental items, or valuable pieces of property.

In order to avoid wasting extensive amounts of expensive time that your attorney can bill you for, knickknacks and other items of inconsequential value should be decided on prior to trial.

The best idea is to attempt to keep the trial focused on the bigger items that you and your spouse cannot agree upon, such as your marital home, retirement accounts, finances, alimony payments, or custody issues.

Keep in mind that you can make a settlement at any time, even during the final moments in court. If your spouse becomes willing to negotiate, this last-minute endeavor could help save you significant amounts of money on the day of your trial.

A trial requires lots of time and preparation.

Make sure that you understand everything your attorney presents to you. You will be asked to review numerous documents, including your filing paperwork, your bills, and your trial strategy.

To achieve overall success in trial, it is critical to keep yourself informed and familiar with the evidence, witnesses, and testimony that you will be required to provide in court. This preparation is a time-consuming endeavor, but you should consider all of the ways in which you may need to prepare yourself prior to trial. Consider practicing with your attorney, and regularly reviewing the list of potential questions they will ask.

Self-representation requires far more preparation and a greater time commitment when things head to trial—even more so than a typical trial that would have an attorney at your disposal. This preparation is even more pertinent if you will be representing yourself. In this situation, you will need to know the local rules, fill out the required paperwork, and familiarize yourself with the proper procedures for introducing witnesses or evidence into the trial.

You may also be up against a well-prepared, experienced attorney, who will not cut you any slack due to your own inexperience.

However, while representing yourself, you can significantly save on the overall cost of divorce.

Making the Final Decision

Going to trial to settle the final details of your divorce can certainly be a nerve-wracking experience. Make sure that you understand each aspect of a trial (including the potential outcomes) prior to making the decision to pursue this avenue. A lack of information can lead to uncertain outcomes, as well as a greater commitment of your finances and time.

While some situations make avoiding a trial impossible, remember to factor in your ability to settle until the end of your actual day in court.

Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money Show” and Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.

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Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA

Dallas, Texas

Shawn C. H. Leamon is Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, a firm that helps successful families manage large financial transitions like divorce, inheritance and selling a business.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Economics and Philosophy, and his Masters in Business Administration at Spain’s IE Business School.

Before founding LaGrande Global, Shawn helped manage $1.1 billion in client assets at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He also worked as a credit research analyst at J.P. Morgan. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and he has been an advisor to numerous high-stakes divorce cases.

Shawn is the author of two well-received finance books: Managing Private Wealth: Principles, and Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, both published in 2016.

In his spare time, Shawn is an ultra-endurance athlete and has competed in events as long as 24 hours. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Alumni Board of Greenhill School.