Divorce Trials are Nothing Like Trials in Movies
October 17, 2022 at 4:30 PM
by Amanda
Divorce Trials are Nothing Like Trials in Movies

Many movies and TV shows are based around the lives of lawyers. They show trials as these grand theater productions, with a cranky judge sitting high above a courtroom making rulings before a rapt jury. A Hollywood courtroom has little in common with an actual courtroom and divorce hearing.

First, there are no juries in family law cases in Illinois. All divorce cases are tried by only a judge. The judges are all humans - and they are prone to getting cranky. Lawyers do not stand up and pontificate about why their client is so awesome or why the other side is so terrible. Instead, the questioning goes back and forth, for 6 to 8 hours, punctuated with exhibits being shown, the court reporters stopping folks to have phrases repeated, attorneys accidentally barging in, and attorneys sitting, asking questions.

You do not get the court time to tell the judge how amazing you are and why you win. Instead, you answer questions from your attorney, then the other attorney. Sometimes the judge or the guardian ad litem (if you have one) asks questions. The case does not hit every high point. Instead, it often hinges on three or five areas of questioning that your attorney feels best presents your case. You will probably only have 2 or three witnesses testify for you.

At no time do you really get to tell your whole story. Instead, the angry text messages and emails you sent are presented to the Judge to make you look mean, angry or, at worst, abusive. Your spending is critiqued heavily, so you look like you waste money on frivolities. If you start murmuring that the other side is a liar, the Judge will yell at you. In fact, unless you are on the witness stand, you do not get to talk. That might include at lunch, if the Judge tells you and your lawyer you cannot discuss the case. You might also be prevented from talking to the witnesses too until the case is over.

The judge may or may not rule from the bench. Most of the judges take copious notes. They have discussed legal issues with the attorneys, usually in chambers. They often review their notes and ask the attorneys to submit closing arguments in writing and proposed orders.

Its not uncommon to learn if you won or lost weeks later. If someone disagrees, they can file post-trial motions or an appeal. This can drag your case on for months, if not years.

In the whole process, the judge only heard snippets of your life. Perhaps the GAL dug a bit deeper. Many clients remark that it feels like the surface was barely scratched - and how could someone represent my soon to be ex as a good person? In other words, the process is exhausting, takes forever, and feels like a letdown. Its nothing like Hollywood. And the cost is likely the equivalent to semester or more of college tuition, a good used car or a fantastic Florida vacation to see the mouse. Yeah, that 8 hours in the courtroom took 40 hours of attorney time to accomplish. And a post-trial motion or appeal is another 75-100 hours.

If this sounds like the worst possible outcome for you, I would suggest you work through your sticking points with your soon to be ex. Find a mediator, talk with a therapist, and determine how to work it out. Then let me handle the paperwork. I was one of the lawyers droning on in a drab courtroom. Now I am not. I am the attorney who enjoys her job and what she does - giving her clients well-crafted divorces that help them move on. If you can agree on everything, reach out to my office so I can help you move towards your future without a trial.