While most cases are negotiated to a settlement, some require a trial. Whether settled or tried, a hearing in court is necessary. The earliest that a hearing can take place is ninety-one days after the return date. Almost all cases take longer.
If the case is settled, an agreement will be prepared and signed. The final hearing will be very brief and may take as little as ten or fifteen minutes. You or your spouse, usually the “Plaintiff,” will have to testify to the facts contained in the Complaint. The agreement will be explained to you, your spouse, and the court. The court will usually approve of the agreement and immediately dissolve your marriage. Sometimes, for tax or other reasons, the court will not act until the next calendar year.
If the case is not settled, trial will be necessary. Trial can consume many days or even weeks, especially if custody or complicated or substantial finances are involved.
A divorce trial is basically the telling of a story. You will tell most of the story as a result of questioning by both lawyers and, perhaps, the judge. Other witnesses such as a real estate appraiser, a business appraiser, or a custody evaluator will testify to matters which require special expertise. If custody is at issue, your lawyer may paint the picture of your parenting with the testimony of a psychologist or psychiatrist, a neighbor, or a teacher. Your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer will, of course, have the opportunity to tell your spouse’s side of the story too. Even two honest spouses will usually have two very different stories to tell. Perceptions differ. Recollections differ. Emotions influence both perception and recollection.