Trials and Hearings

HOW TO PREPARE YOUR CASE FOR TRIAL

To prepare your case for trial, you need to know what you want to tell the Court and the other party. In order to do that, you will need witnesses and exhibits. Here are some instructions and a step-by-step guideline on how to chose your witnesses and exhibits:

STEP 1: CHOOSING YOUR WITNESSES

  1. In General. In choosing a witness, you should think in terms of what you want to say to the Judge and what witnesses will help you tell your story to the Judge. Witnesses are people who will help to tell your story to the Judge. They should be people who can talk to the Judge under oath about things they have seen or know directly, not things they have heard from you or someone else. Note that the court will not accept a written statement from a witness who is not in court.

  2. Custody Cases. In custody cases, you will need to think about who can come to court and who will best explain why it is in the best interest of your child or children to be with you. Examples of good witnesses are: teachers, day care workers, or close friends who can tell the Judge how you are caring for the child’s physical, emotional, and/or psychological needs.

  3. Family Members. Family members are good witnesses as well, but remember that a professional or third party is more believable to a Judge than a family member.

  4. Supervised or Restricted Visitation. If you are seeking supervised or restricted visitation, witnesses who have seen acts of domestic violence, abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other behaviors which explain to the judge why you want supervised or restricted visitation, should be brought to court.

  5. Child Support and Alimony. If you are seeking alimony and/or child support, you may need witnesses who can talk about the income of the other party. If there is not enough evidence about to his or her income, you may want witnesses who can talk about his or her job skills or experience. For example, co-workers, accountant, yourself, family members, classmates, or instructors.

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How Courts Work In Civil Cases

A civil court case begins with filing a legal action at the office of Clerk of the Court.

Filing means giving legal papers to the Clerk of the Court.  The papers become a part of the case.

People usually get a lawyer to do their court work for them.  However, each one of us has the right to do our own court work.  Only a lawyer is allowed to represent (do court work for) others.  Doing your own court work is called pro se (pronounced:  pro say) representation.

Taking a problem to court begins with writing a court paper called a complaint or petition. 

The complaint/petition tells the court about your case.  The complaint usually tells:

1. Who the person is that you are going to court against.  This person is called the defendant or respondent;

2. What the defendant/respondent did that brings you to court with a legal action;

3. The law that gives you a right to take legal action against the defendant/respondent;

4. What you want the court to do.  This is usually called the prayer or request for relief.

The following steps are what may happen in a court case: 

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A Taxonomy of Family Court Judges

Mark E. Jakubik of the Pennsylvania Family Law Blog posted this article this week:

Divorce Magazine offers a description of the various “judge types” who may sit on your family law case. While I have some disagreements with some of the descriptions, and some of them are a bit redundant, there are more than a few grains of truth in the piece. I have run into most of the specimens described ( and agree, too, that most judges combine a variety of these traits):

The Judge

In the continuation of a six-part series of excerpts from the book, Divorce: It’s All About Control—How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars by certified family law specialist, Stacy D. Phillips, she discusses the different “types” that tend to control a divorcee’s divorce process in the courtroom. In this segment, Ms. Phillips details the characteristics of the “judge variety”—those individuals who often assert authority taking complete control of a couple’s divorce, leaving them at the mercy of the courts.

The “Heard-It-Alls”

This category of judge has little patience for the daily routine that goes on in the courtroom, between counsel, or for that matter, the parties, and refuses to grant continuances for “frivolous” reasons. Heard-It-Alls become easily fed up with standard excuses and can see past every histrionic ploy. Don’t try to pull anything over on a Heard-It-All because they already have heard it all! This moniker suggests a negative connotation. However, the label can equally apply to a very experienced, no-nonsense, truly fine judicial officer who, indeed, does know it all.

The “Peacemakers”

Contrary to the Heard-It-Alls, the Peacemaker is the type of courtroom boss who attempts to get the parties to come to terms and may even suggest the case be continued until additional settlement discussions can take place. The Peacemakers are known for being big on child rights. They also tend to be more sensitive to the perils only divorce can bring. As such, they try to minimize the trauma of the courtroom experience on the parties who come before them.

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Georgia Trials and Hearings FAQ

Does every case have to go to Trial?
No. The vast majority of cases are settled without a trial. Sometimes, when parties cannot agree, even after being prodded to do so by attorneys, mediators and the court, a trial is necessary. Trials seem to occur when one or both parties refuse to budge at all. Usually, each side will budge and a trial becomes necessary only if an agreement cannot be reached. Sometimes agreement is reached just before trial, once all of the facts are known and each side can better understand the likely outcome of trial since by then they have each had a chance to look at the evidence the other party has and to interview witnesses.

What is the difference between a "Hearing" and a "Trial"?
Often the words "hearing" and "trial" are used interchangeably, but "Trial" generally refers to the FINAL hearing or the last court appearance which should conclude all issues. "Hearings" can cover temporary issues such as temporary custody, support, use of a residence or violation of an existing Order.

How many witnesses can I have?
At trial, you may have as many witnesses as needed (unless the court determines their testimony is inadmissible for a legal reason such as relevance). At a temporary hearing in Georgia, you are generally limited to the party and one witness per party at a temporary hearing, unless the Court makes an exception.

Can Affidavits be used?
Yes. Under certain conditions, and used properly (including giving the other side a copy at the right time), at Temporary Hearings, Affidavits may be submitted.

Can I have a jury trial?
In Georgia, jury trial is allowed on request of either party in certain cases including divorce. They are not allowed in custody cases, unless the case also involves support or asset division in which case the jury could hear the other issues. Juries do not determine custody, visitation or attorney’s fees.

What is Family Court?
It is a Court devoted to handling only family law cases. Fulton County has the most comprehensive Family Court in Georgia. You can learn more about it at www.fultonfamilydivision.com.

How long does a hearing or trial take?
Hearings are usually shorter than trials. Most hearings last less than one day and most trials last from one to five days. Of course there are exceptions depending on the complexity of the issues.

Is it better to settle or go to trial?
If you can achieve positive results without trial, settlement is to be preferred since trials are emotionally and financially expensive. However, sometimes a trial is the only way to achieve a fair result. You should discuss this with a lawyer after you have explained all the facts to him or her.

SOURCE: DivorceNet