The Steps and Stages of a Divorce Trial in Tennessee

Knoxville divorce attorneys explain the process from start to finish

A divorce trial can be many things – long, expensive, contentious. One thing it’s not? Easy. Most attorneys advise divorcing couples to try every other option before resorting to litigation. Tennessee offers several options for spouses who wish to divorce – mediation, settlement negotiations, arbitration, and other non-courtroom methods. In some cases, however, a trial is the only real option when it comes to protecting yourself and your children.

The Knoxville divorce lawyers at LaFevor & Slaughter have decades of combined experience advocating for clients just like you. When your divorce has to go to trial, we go with you. We work with you from the start and we don’t stop until you reach the outcome you deserve. Our job is to keep you calm, keep you informed, and ensure you’re prepared for the courtroom. Get in touch with us today. We can help.

Step One: Pre-trial preparation

The local divorce attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter have a reputation for our thorough pre-trial preparation. We’re ready for anything. Our trial prep includes:

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

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

Step Two: Beginning of the trial

So, what happens when the trial starts? As we mentioned earlier, no reasonable person is gonna choose a trial if there is any other fair way to avoid it. In addition to the outcome being uncertain, trials are both expensive and unpleasant. Nobody wants to go to court. However, trial is sometimes the only alternative when you’re in the position of dealing with ridiculous settlement demands or a complete 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 a divorce trial, the court decides the following issues:

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

Step Three: During the trial

The progress and order of the trial is decided by the judge – and only the judge. A divorce trial can last from one morning to several weeks, depending on the specifics of your case. The court typically decides issues after hearing information on the children, then property and debts, and then alimony (in that order).

A judge can hear everything at once, or have one trial on custody and then have another on property division and alimony. Depending on the court’s schedule, a judge can receive testimony one day and then wait weeks, even months, before continuing again. Although unusual, the judge can even hear more than one case at a time. Yes, it all sounds quite vague, but unfortunately that’s just the way the courts work. Our Knoxville divorce attorneys work as hard as we can to make the process as efficient and tidy as possible.

Step Four: The court’s decision

Following closing statements, the judge can either immediately rule on your case, or make you wait a while. If the court takes time to review the facts and evidence and issues a written opinion days or weeks later, it’s called taking the matter “under advisement.” This delay can be a very problematic time for both parties, causing stress, worry, or anxiety.  Some cases settle at this time because they just want it over, and are willing to negotiate, before the judge even rules.

After the judge’s decision is made and delivered orally or in writing to the parties, a Judgment is typed up and approved by the lawyers and court.  Again, this could take days or weeks.  The written judgment is then formally entered into court records.

Step Five: Appealing the decision

If one of you feels the decision is wrong or unfair, you and your attorney have 30 days following entry of the court’s order or ruling on the case to appeal. Usually we do this by filing a “Notice of Appeal.” Sometimes we’ll file a motion to allow the judge to correct an error. This “Motion to Alter or Amend” is seldom used, but it’s handy to correct a minor error without having to go through an appeal.

If either party chooses to appeal the trial court’s ruling, what you’re really asking for is for the Court of Appeals to find that the trial judge made a mistake of law. The appeal process usually lasts between six and 18 months, although there’s no time limit for the Court of Appeals to render its decision. If there is disagreement with the appeal, either party may ask the Supreme Court of Tennessee to review that decision.

Note that the Supreme Court of Tennessee is not required to hear any particular case. If they do, the time frame required for Supreme Court review could take an additional 12 to 18 months.

Step Six: Post-divorce actions

Although it’s a fresh start for both of you, a divorce doesn’t end immediately following a settlement or a ruling by the court. In some divorces, there’s still work to be done after the judge signs your Final Decree of Divorce. Some of the more common examples include:

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

When planning your divorce, it’s important to budget correctly for these actions, even after the Decree has been signed. Our lawyers understand how to do this by taking every cent and scenario into account.

We also advocate for members of the military with family law matters.

Knoxville family law attorneys taking clients step-by-step through a divorce trial

Going to trial may be a necessary step in your divorce. If it is, you want an experienced Knoxville divorce lawyer by your side to represent your best interests. At LaFevor & Slaughter, we have the skills, experience and resources you want (and need) on your side. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.