The Steps and Stages of a Divorce Trial in Tennessee

Accomplished Knoxville divorce lawyers representing your best interests

Divorce trials can be lengthy, costly and contentious. In some cases, however, a trial is the only real option when it comes to protecting yourself and your children.

The pre-trial preparation is what allows us to successfully represent our clients, because we are prepared for anything. It may include:

  • Making a chart of all assets and debts
  • Conducting depositions
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Hiring and preparing expert witnesses for valuations and other expert testimony
  • Preparing court required pre-trial pleadings
  • Preparing for direct and cross-examination of the parties and witnesses
  • Preparing for opening and closing statements
  • Preparing the client for testifying, organizing the file and trial exhibits
  • Completing research on legal issues unique to that case
  • Looking for appellate cases with specific facts and legal issues similar to the case

Court rules also require the lawyers to prepare pre-trial briefs for the court, outlining important issues of the case. In a common family-law trial, judges will read these briefs before the trial or scan them during opening statements.

What happens when the trial begins?

No reasonable person will choose a trial if there is any other equitable way to avoid it. In addition to the outcome being uncertain, trials are both expensive and unpleasant. However, trial is sometimes the only alternative to a continuing to deal with unreasonable settlement demands or an unwillingness to negotiate at all. Placing your future in the hands of a judge, who is most likely much different from you, is very risky but may be necessary.

At trial, the court will decide the following issues:

  1. Who will be granted a divorce and on what grounds
  2. Who will be granted primary residential parent status and what the allocation of residential time with the children will be
  3. How the marital assets and debts will be divided
  4. Whether temporary or permanent alimony will be awarded
  5. How much will be awarded in child support
  6. Whether attorney’s fees will be awarded
  7. Against whom court costs will be taxed

During the trial, the plaintiff’s lawyer usually speaks first, followed by the defendant’s counsel. The plaintiff’s counsel then puts on proof, calling witnesses and introducing documents and items into evidence. Then the defendant’s lawyer does the same. The plaintiff may be granted some limited opportunity to offer rebuttal testimony, and then the court decides whether or not to hear closing statements.

The progress and order of a trial is decided by the judge and only the judge. A divorce trial can last from one morning to several weeks. The court usually will decide issues after hearing information on the children, then property and debts, and then alimony (in that order). A judge can hear everything at one time or do one trial on custody and then have another trial on property division and alimony. Depending on the court’s schedule, a judge can receive testimony one day and wait weeks, even months, before continuing again. Although unusual, the judge can even hear more than one case at a time.

Following closing statements, the judge can either immediately rule on the case or wait. If the court takes more time to review the facts and evidence and issues a written opinion days or weeks later, this is called taking the matter “under advisement.” This delay can be a very problematic time for the parties. It causes worry or anxiety.  Some cases even settle at this time before the judge rules.

After the judge’s decision is made and delivered orally or in writing to the parties, a Judgment will be typed and approved by the lawyers and court.  Sometimes it takes days or weeks.  The written judgment is then “entered” on the court records.

Appealing the decision

The parties have thirty days following entry of the court’s order or ruling on the case to appeal. Normally this is done by filing a “Notice of Appeal.” Sometimes, a motion to allow the judge to correct an error will be filed. This “Motion to Alter or Amend” is seldom used but sometimes it can correct an error and save an appeal.

If either party chooses to appeal the trial court’s ruling the party is asking the Court of Appeals to find that the trial judge made a mistake of law. The time necessary for an appeal usually lasts between six and eighteen months. There is no time limit for the Court of Appeals to render its decision. If there is disagreement with the appellate court’s decision, either party may ask the Supreme Court of Tennessee to review that decision. The Supreme Court of Tennessee is not required to hear any particular case. The time frame required for Supreme Court review could take an additional twelve to eighteen months.

A divorce does not end immediately following a settlement or a ruling by the court. In some divorces, there is work to be done after a Final Decree of Divorce is signed by the judge. Some of the more common examples include:

  • Preparing, executing, and filing Quit Claim Deeds transferring ownership interest in houses/real property
  • Obtaining refinancing for loans on the real property
  • Changing designated beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement benefits
  • Drafting, reviewing, executing, and filing Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, or QDRO
  • Transferring title on Certificates of Title for automobiles
  • Transferring possession of property as directed by the court or agreement of the parties

Divorcing parties are often surprised at the expense for completing these transactions.  Some can be done without the lawyers but still have costs. It is important to budget correctly for these actions, even after the Decree has been signed.

Taking clients step-by-step through a divorce trial

Going to trial may be a necessary step in your divorce. You want an experienced Knoxville divorce lawyer by your side to ensure that your best interests are represented. At LaFevor & Slaughter, we have the skills, experience and resources you want on your side. Please call 865.272.4454 or fill out our convenient contact form to schedule a consultation with one of our accomplished Knoxville divorce attorneys.