|Posted on September 17, 2016 at 6:25 PM|
What to Expect in a Final Hearing for Uncontested Divorce
If you’re nearing the finish line of an “uncontested divorce,” or a divorce in which both spouses have agreed on ALL terms of property division and on all matters concerning child custody, it's very likely that you’ll soon be heading to the courthouse for the final hearing. On that date, in most situations, you will appear before a family law judge, in a courtroom open to the public and testify under oath about a few key issues.
When I tell many of my clients this information, I can their faces turn grey, as they instinctively start thinking “Gee, this is an uncontested divorce! You mean I still have to go to court, stand up in front of a judge in a courtroom full of people, and actually speak?!” DON’T PANIC (or at least try not too!) Knowing what to expect in Court on that day, whether you have an attorney, or you are acting pro-se (representing yourself), can take away much of the fear and anxiety most people (including some lawyers!) feel before stepping into the courtroom. So in an attempt to spare you excessive worry, here’s a good idea what to expect on your court date and a few tips on how to made the process as quick and painful as possible.
Now, every judge handles uncontested divorces a little differently, but generally, the following information will apply in most Connecticut courtrooms. The good news is that if you have all of your documentation ready and it is filled out correctly, final hearings don’t take long. You may have to sit in the courtroom for a bit of time as the court hears other matters. However, the entire process of your uncontested divorce is usually over in less than 10 minutes.
What Should I Do BEFORE I Get to the Courtroom?
Your first responsibility is TO BE ON TIME! If your case is scheduled for 9:30, be inside the Courthouse by 9:00. Remember, you will need to leave yourself time to park, as most of Connecticut’s courthouses have no public parking. Also, there can be long lines before entering the Courthouse in order to pass through the metal detectors (don’t blame the judicial marshals for this, or get angry if they ask you to take off your shoes, they’re just doing their jobs to keep us safe!). You will also have to make your way to the courtroom. This can all take longer than you expect, so plan accordingly!
I’ve made it into the Courthouse, now what?
Next, you or your attorney will look for what is called the court calendar. (From now on, when I use the word “you” I am referring to either you if you represent yourself or to you and/or your attorney.) If you are represent yourself, you should have received the calendar prior to the hearing. If you take a look at the calendar, you will see that the cases are organized by columns and position numbers. On the date of your hearing, if more than one judge is handling cases, the calendar, or a notice next to the calendar, will list by case number the courtroom to which you should proceed.
Once you know exactly where to go, you should enter the courtroom. You will probably see a courtroom clerk, usually sitting next to the judge’s bench. If you arrive prior to the Judge’s appearance on the bench, it is usually possible to let the courtroom clerk know your matter is ready to proceed. Because some judges call the cases in the order they are marked ready with the clerk, this can save you time. So, if you see a line to speak with the clerk, get in it! If you don’t, you may want to ask a Judicial Marshall if it ok to approach the clerk. However, once the judge takes the bench, a pro-se party should NEVER enter the front of the Courtroom! Don’t worry, your case will still be heard, as the judge will go through the calendar and ask which cases are ready to be heard. When the judge calls out the name of your case, if you have no lawyer, stand up and tell the court you are ready, or the status of the case. The judge will then proceed with your matter soon.
What Will Happen When the Judge Announces My Case?
Now it ShowTime! You will stand up and proceed to the front of the Courtroom. ALWAYS remain standing until the Judge tells you may sit! The Judge will ask you to identify yourself for the record and may take a few minutes to read through your paperwork and Separation Agreement. Then, the Judge will usually ask the parties one at a time to be sworn in and testify to some basic facts about your situation and your Separation Agreement. Usually, the first party called on to testify is the plaintiff, or the party who initiated the case. Most of the time, the judge asks you to take the witness stand, where you will be asked by your attorney or the judge, to testify regarding the following:
1. Whether you or your spouse have been a Connecticut resident for at least twelve months prior to filing this petition for dissolution of marriage;
2. Whether or not any children were born during the marriage, and if the answer is yes, their names(s) and date (s) of birth (Don’t be shocked, no matter what your age or the age of your spouse, if the female spouse is currently pregnant!) If you have children, the court will make sure that you have filed the form that signifies you have completed the parenting course that Connecticut requires by law for divorcing parents, and that the parties have filed an Affidavit Concerning Children and Child Support Guidelines;
3. Whether your marriage has broken down irretrievably (NOTE: A YES OR NO ANSWER IS APPROPRIATE! This is not the time to criticize your spouse and throw out nasty accusations. Legally, it’s irrelevant at this point, since the matter is agreed upon. And frankly, the judge probably has absolutely no interest in hearing this information! Believe me, if the Judge wants information, he or she will ask you!);
4. Whether the Separation Agreement presented to the Court was signed by you (usually the Judge will hand you the document and ask you to identify your signature and confirm that the signature on the document is yours);
5. Whether the Separation Agreement you signed was done so knowingly, freely and voluntarily, without coercion from anyone else;
6. Whether under the particular circumstances of your case, the you believe the agreement fair and equitable;
7. Whether you are under currently under the influence of any drugs or alcohol which could impair your ability to enter into the agreement with a full understanding;
8. If you have an attorney, you may be asked if you are satisfied with his or her services;
9. Whether you wish the court to accept your agreement and enter a final judgment of divorce;
10. Whether or not the wife is requesting to restore her maiden name.
WHEW! The Hearing’s Over!
You will be legally divorced when the hearing is over.
I hope this information is helpful! I also recommend speaking with a family law attorney (like me) at the beginning of your case. An attorney can assess the unique facts of your case and advise you regarding how complex your case may become. By doing this, you can make an informed decision about whether it is in your best interests to hire an attorney or try to go through the divorce as a pro se party.
***The material contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The material is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or up to date. Information provided by or cited to third parties does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Carrie Brosnan Taylor (CBT) or her clients.