Your divorce and/or custody has been set for trial. With so much at stake, being well-prepared can help you feel more confident and calm. Here are some useful steps that can help you to prepare your case effectively in family court.
When parents divorce in the state of Illinois, their divorce settlement must outline a plan for different issues regarding their children. This plan should include child support, custody and visitation. Some parents are able to utilize mediation or work together to determine where their children will live and how much time will be spent with each parent.
There are some cases in which parents are unable to resolve custody disputes without legal intervention. In that situation, it is best to get a family lawyer to advise parents to prepare themselves for a potential child custody evaluation. Here’s some ways to prepare for a family court trial.
Preparing For Trial
Attorneys will guide you through the preparation process and help you gather evidence. Your job is to provide everything your attorney asks for and be 100% honest so they can prepare for arguments the other party may be compiling.
If you plan on representing yourself, most legal experts would recommend consulting with an attorney to ensure you’re ready for court. This is different from hiring a lawyer to represent you since they will provide you with advice during meetings.
You’ll need to present evidence to support your case, which includes exhibits and witnesses. It’s always important to review the Illinois Rules of Evidence, and remember that witnesses cannot testify to hearsay.
Examples of Evidence You Can Provide
- Bills and medical reports
- Photos/Videos of you and your child
- Phone logs and visits with your child
- A calendar showing when you care for your child
- Anything that proves you to be fit as a parent and meets evidence requirements
It’s important to be prepared and have the judge know your stance on what is best for your child. You can do this by providing a parenting plan and parenting time schedule to trial. Along with all documents, bring a copy for the court, one for the other parent and one for yourself.
Witnesses can be anyone with knowledge relevant to the case. Parents almost always testify as witnesses. A child is more likely to do an interview with the judge outside of the courtroom, since the probability of them testifying is low. Expert witnesses provide professional opinions and are appointed by the court or hired by a party. Examples of expert witnesses are child custody evaluators or psychologists. Lay witnesses do not offer expert opinions, but they testify about their personal knowledge of a situation. These witnesses include family members, friends, and teachers.
Trials usually take place several months after the initial filing. If the case is not progressing 18 months after filing, the judge may decide to issue a ruling at that time. Trials typically tend to be a few hours and will often be done in one sitting.
Longer trials may be broken up into sessions spread out over days, weeks or, in some complicated cases, months. Be aware that the court may delay your trial date due to requests for more time from the other parent.
The parent who requested parental responsibilities, also known as the petitioner, may give an opening statement to explain how they see the case. The other parent, also known as the respondent, can then follow.
If you are represented by an attorney, they will speak on your behalf. The petitioner calls witnesses and presents exhibits first. Any number of witnesses can be called to testify, as long as they were on the list that was filed with the court and provided to the other parent.
- Next, the respondent calls their witnesses and presents their exhibits.
- Later, each side can submit additional evidence (called rebuttal evidence) to disprove the other side’s claims.
Finally, both parties give closing arguments to summarize their points. Judges announce rulings immediately following closing arguments, but they can take several days or weeks to decide. The final judgment replaces temporary orders previously put in place. Your options for changing a final judgment include appealing to a higher court or applying for a modification.
Masters Law Group understands that preparation for a family court trial can be a stressful situation. Our firm makes sure they are with you every step of the way. We currently handle family law matters in Cook County and surrounding counties and concentrate in the area of domestic relations, which includes divorce, allocation of parental responsibilities, child support and related family matters.
We offer a wide range of services tailored to our clients’ unique legal needs and have a unique depth of knowledge, experience and talent in the Family Law and Divorce field. Click here to set up a consultation today.