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What to Know About Divorce Trial Opening Statements

Marriage is about combining your life with the life of another person. When you get married, your life becomes interwoven with the life of your spouse. This is why divorces are so painful – when you get divorced, you have to separate yourself from your spouse and their life, and it’s difficult for both people to leave the relationship still feeling whole.

Some couples have luck when it comes to mediation or collaborative law, and they’re able to find a peaceful solution to many of their issues. Other couples, though, have no choice but to proceed with a more traditional hearing requiring litigation.

If your divorce ends up in litigation, meaning you’ll have to appear in court, it’s important to understand the different parts of a typical divorce trial. Unless your case ends up settling before it goes to trial, you’ll want to know what to expect from court.

The Opening Statement

During a divorce trial, the opening statement is what essentially introduces the case. It provides the judge with context that they can use when listening to all the aspects of the trial. In New York State courts, the person who petitioned will give their opening statement before the responding party is able to give theirs.

It’s important to note that opening statements are not usually argumentative. Most divorce lawyers opt not to comment on how credible the other party is. They don’t create an opening statement with the purpose of putting down the other party while buoying their client.

The Divorce Trial

The entire trial will take place in front of a judge. However, the exception to this is cases that involved grounds issues ¬– these cases are sometimes held in front of a jury. In New York, though, these types of cases are rare, as New York sees no fault divorces.

The divorce trial is intended to work out issues that the parties aren’t able to resolve on their own or through mediation. These problems often include parenting time, distribution of assets, child custody or child support.

Presenting the Opening Statement

The most successful opening statements give everyone in the courtroom an introduction to the nature of the couple’s divorce. The point is to let everyone involved in the case know important details, and to clarify which decisions have to be made, and the facts that will go towards making them.

The opening statement is just that: a statement. It’s not an argument, and your lawyer will remain calm and conversational while delivering the statement. It’s also not uncommon for the lawyers to waive their opening statements and proceed right to the case itself. When this happens, judges are often glad that they can proceed to the testimony, shortening the process overall. Some lawyers (and judges) feel that opening statements aren’t evidence, and that a case is best served if only the evidence and the testimony is dealt with.

Reasons to Have an Opening Statement

Though some lawyers may opt to waive their opening statement, there are a number of benefits to having one;

• Each party in the divorce can give the basics of their story
• The attorney has the opportunity to set the tone and introduce the case’s theme
• The facts of the case will be outlined
• Those involved in the case will know which evidence they can expect, because it’s evidence that will support the facts

Creating an Opening Statement

When attorneys devise an opening statement, they usually adhere to a traditional layout with an introduction, body and conclusion. There’s no set length for an opening statement ¬– it can be as long or as short as necessary, so long as it paints a picture of the case in a clear way. Some lawyers will consider the style of their opening statement in an effort to develop a better rapport with everyone in the courtroom, including the judge. Also, the opening statement usually includes elements that go to humanizing the client and showing the judge what type of person they are.

Opening Statements Best Practices

A good attorney will make the most out of the opening statement. They will show that they have a high amount of respect for the judge by remaining polite and engaging. Your lawyer should pay close attention to their tone, and they should also make eye contact with whoever they are speaking to. They will not take a moment to make a note, as the opening statement is entirely about developing a relationship with the people in the courtroom.

The attorney should also take the opportunity to outline all of the disputes in the case. This will help the judge to see the case from the client’s perspective. Certain gestures are avoided during the opening statement, such as pointing, because these may not be deemed as polite during this time. The opening statement is also a chance for your lawyer to address some weaknesses in your case, which can decrease the impact when the other side brings these issues up later on. When a weakness is brought out into the open, your lawyer can provide reasons for the weakness, which can keep it from damaging the case too much. It also shows that the client is trustworthy and transparent because they are willing to showcase their weaknesses.

While there are many approaches to an opening statement, most lawyers choose to show that they are on their client’s side. They want the judge and the rest of the courtroom to see that they believe in their client and what they stand for. This makes it easier for everyone else involved to see the client in the same light.

Getting Help With Your Divorce Trial

If you have questions about opening statements or if you need representation during a divorce proceeding, contact our Long Island lawyers today. We’ll be happy to discuss the details of your case and help you come up with the best plan of action.