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What to Expect When Your Case Gets to Divorce Court

For many navigating a marital break-up, divorce court--or any court for that matter--is unchartered territory. Although laws and procedures differ throughout the states, here's generally what you can expect.

There are four major issues to be settled in divorce court:

  • Child custody and visitation: With whom should the children reside and how often will the other parent see them?
  • Child support: How much financial help does the parent with custody receive from the other parent?
  • Alimony: Is the lower-income spouse entitled to financial support?
  • Division of property: How will you divide the property, assets and debts accrued during the marriage?

"Your divorce will be more complicated if you have property (real estate, automobiles, vacation property, pensions, jewelry, etc.) or children," according to the Minnesota state courts, although it is true in every state. "Your case could be completed more quickly if you and your spouse agree on how to divide the property and handle custody of the children."

If there is a disagreement in how to handle the children post-divorce, many judges will require the parents to go to mediation, where a neutral, third-party mediator can guide them to a settlement in a less-stressful setting. Some states also require the parents and/or children to attend divorce education programs to better learn how to deal with this often stressful event.

First Hearing in Divorce Court Cases

The first hearing in a divorce case is often for temporary relief, deciding interim matters of child support, medical support, spousal support and who gets to live in the marital home, according to the West Virginia University College of Law. At this hearing, the judge can learn what issues are being contested and how many hearings and the amount of time a divorce case may need. If there are no contested issues, the first hearing may also be the last.

Perhaps the most important tip going into divorce court is to have reasonable expectations, according to the Ninth Circuit Court in Florida. "You will be disappointed if you expect to 'win' on every issue. Rarely is either spouse happy about every ruling in a case. Even the best rulings leave both spouses somewhat dissatisfied," the court writes.

Practical Tips for Your Day in Divorce Court

Here are the nuts and bolts you need to know before going off to court:

  • Arrive early. It may take time to find parking and get through security . Plan to show up 30 minutes before your scheduled hearing.
  • Do not miss your court date. Hearings are not easily rescheduled and missing one could result in a warrant for your arrest. If there is an emergency that prevents you from showing up in court, call the court clerk beforehand.
  • Bring a notepad and pen to take notes.
  • Make an outline of what you want to say. Make sure it is relevant to the specific requests made in the divorce papers.
  • Dress nicely.
  • Act respectfully.
  • Before you leave, make sure you know what's the next step and any deadlines/hearing dates

And here are some important "don'ts." DO NOT:

  • Bring children, unless asked to do so.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Chew gum.
  • Read a newspaper.
  • Bring in a cell phone unless it is turned off.

Tips for Outside the Courtroom

Actions you take outside the courtroom can influence how your divorce case will go inside the courtroom. The Ninth Circuit Court in Florida recommends that divorcing parents keep communication open. "Your child will suffer to the degree that you and your former spouse cannot cooperate and communicate," the court says.

You should encourage support and visitation, especially if you have temporary custody of the children. It is your duty. Sabotaging visitation could lead to a negative outcome at the last hearing, which will finalize the divorce.

Seeing a therapist to deal with the emotions will also keep legal proceedings orderly and professional. You should not take your anger out on the judge or other members of the divorce court.