What does and (doesn’t) happen if your divorce case goes to trial?

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What is an Absolute Divorce?”


Many people have skewed views of what happens in a courtroom. Television and movies have done a disservice to our understanding of what really goes in when you’re in front of a judge. We expect fireworks, tears, shocking revelations, audible gasps from the jury and if we don’t get it we’re disappointed. The reality is that in the vast (and I mean vast) majority of cases, you’re simply trying to hold people’s attention. Just as one example, discovery obligations and rules of evidence make it unlikely that surprises will occur, both sides usually see any “surprise” coming long before it’s ever presented in court.


Down-the-hall-Mooresville-Divorce-Attorney-225x300So if court isn’t quite what you think, what is it like? To find out what does and doesn’t happen if your divorce makes its way to a courtroom, keep reading.


Rules do matter


Here’s a perfect example of Hollywood leading ordinary people astray. Unlike the eccentrics on TV who flout the rules without consequence, those who are in real courtrooms need to understand and abide by a number of rules. There are rules regarding your conduct, there are rules about who can speak when, about how evidence is admitted, about when to approach the judge, about how to ask questions, about how to answer questions. There are filing rules and timing rules and a lot of other unwritten rules, implied rules concerning dress codes and decorum. Navigating the rules can be very difficult, which is why it’s important to rely on an experienced North Carolina family law attorney who has been down the road many times before. Though wild displays may look good on film, they seldom end well in reality.


Your spouse’s bad behavior likely doesn’t matter


This can be the most shocking discovery of all. We expect that a divorce trial will allow us to air all our dirty laundry, putting our spouse’s wrongdoing on display for the world to see. The shame of his or her misdeeds will be immediately evident to the judge and we’ll be crowned victorious. Not so much. The reality is that except for extraordinarily bad behavior, spousal misconduct seldom gets included in a divorce case. A trial isn’t the time to bring up every instance where your husband or wife was rude or cold or dishonest. Though you may have a laundry list of examples of less-than-stellar behavior, chances are your spouse does too and the judge won’t be interested in hearing either. Unless the spousal misconduct was truly egregious (domestic violence, addiction, flagrant infidelity) and has a legal significance, it likely won’t get much attention in the courtroom.


Juries don’t matter


Something that many people don’t realize is that divorce cases are almost always decided by judges, not juries. Though we’re used to seeing television lawyers plead their case to the wavering jurors, in reality, when a divorce case is being tried, the judge is speaking solely to the family law judge. In North Carolina, there are some very limited circumstances in which a jury can be involved. If there’s an allegation concerning alienation of affection, a party can ask that the jury decide that specific issue. Additionally, if it’s a case involving alimony and one party has alleged the other engaged in marital misconduct (meaning an affair), they can ask that the jury decide that issue. Again, the jury will be limited only to determining marital misconduct and won’t be able to decide how much alimony is awarded or for how long. Juries are absolutely prohibited from deciding anything to do with child custody, child support or equitable division. Those issues are left entirely for the judge.


If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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