Married couples always start off with the best intentions and try to make things work during a marriage. Unfortunately, not all marriages are meant to be. When it comes to divorce, it’s also great if a couple can resolve any issues they have informally. But if you and your soon-to-be ex can’t come to an agreement on your own, you might have to go to court to determine who gets what, from the kids to the coffee table.
Here is a quick overview of what you can expect in family court and the final judgment of divorce.
What is a Final Judgment in Divorce Proceedings?
The final judgment in a divorce proceeding is the final ruling that ends the marriage between a married couple. These judgments are rendered by the judge or jury. Once the court reaches this decision, the divorce is granted and finalized. In order to get a final judgment in a divorce, a married couple must go through the family court process.
Family Court and Final Judgment: The Basics
The vast majority of divorce cases reach some sort of settlement, whether through informal negotiation between the spouses (and their attorneys) or through more structured proceedings such as mediation or collaborative law.
But, in some divorce cases, no full settlement can be reached. This is usually because the spouses are too far apart in some or all of their respective wishes. They may not agree on a equitable solution for issues such as child custody, child support, and property division.
In these situations, the divorce will be handled in civil or “family” court, at the county/district branch of state court where the divorce petition was filed. A single judge usually presides over the case and issues a final judgment of divorce, although one or both spouses may have the right to request a jury trial.
The Court Process: Evidence and Arguments
In family court, attorneys for each spouse present evidence and arguments related to the divorce on issues like child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and property division. Evidence in a divorce trial can come in the form of:
- Testimony from the spouses;
- Witness testimony — including a guardian ad litem, a neutral third party who advocates for and represents the child(ren) in court, and expert witnesses (financial analysts, property valuation experts, etc.); and
- Documents — including records related to marital property and finances.
As each side presents its own evidence and arguments, the other side has an opportunity to question witnesses and challenge evidence through “cross-examination” — challenging the witness’s story, testing their credibility, disputing documents, and otherwise attempting to discredit or discount witnesses and evidence.
The Court Process: Final Judgment of Divorce
After hearing and examining all evidence, the judge (or jury) will issue a final ruling resolving the divorce and all surrounding issues. Once the judge reaches a decision, they grant the divorce and enter a judgment finalizing the divorce and all related issues.
This judgment dictates a number of things about the now-divorced couple’s rights and obligations, including:
- Division of the couple’s marital property, debts, and resolution of other financial matters;
- Child custody, living arrangements, and a visitation schedule; and
- Child support and spousal support (alimony): who pays, who receives, how much, when, etc.
Once a judgment is entered, either or both spouses can appeal a trial court judge’s decision to a higher (“appellate” or “appeals”) court, although it is unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge or jury’s decision in a divorce case.