How Divorce Litigation Differs from Other Types of Litigation

How Divorce Litigation Differs from Other Types of LitigationWhen people hear the phrase “go to trial,” they typically think of jury trials, the type you see in movies or hear about in the news. They may also think of television shows like Hot Bench, which showcases small claims court. If you really love reality TV, then perhaps you’ve even watched an episode or two of Divorce Court, which is less a show about trials than a program about how arbitration works.

In truth, you can “go to trial” in a court of family law, but the process is a bit different from what you might expect. Today, we want to talk about those differences a bit so that you can learn how divorce litigation works, and what the process of resolving a family law dispute through the court system is like.

Understanding the goals and purposes of family law, criminal, and civil trials

First and foremost, you should know and be aware of the fact that the goals and purposes of family law, criminal, and civil trials are all different:

  • Criminal trials: The goal and purpose of criminal trials is to handle disputes and issues between an individual and the state. Criminal trials focus on finding out if a person violated a law or committed a crime. The defense can have a jury or a judge decide. In some cases, criminal trials are actually two distinct parts: part one is the determination of guilt, and part two decides the sentencing.
  • Civil trials: Instead of determining if individuals are guilty of crimes, the goal and purpose of civil trials is determining whether someone’s rights were violated due to negligence, error, or mistakes. Instead of guilt, a judge or jury determines liability – a legal way of saying someone is at fault for someone else’s losses, and accountable for their actions. Like in criminal trials, civil trials may also be divided into two parts (determination of liability, and assignment of damages, or compensation for losses and harms).
  • Family law or divorce trials: Family law or divorce trials are very different from criminal and civil trials. The goal is to settle any outstanding disputes between both parties when they cannot reach a resolution on their own.

What family, criminal, and civil trials have in common

As we said, “going to trial” has a very different meaning when you’re going through a divorce. Of course, there are some similarities between the three. As with civil or criminal trials, a family court judge’s ruling is final and legally binding. Both sides still present their arguments to the judge, and both sides may call witnesses. Finally, all three types of cases can avoid going to trial at all by working together to reach a favorable outcome.

What is the process for divorce litigation in Columbia, MD?

Depending on the facts and circumstances of your divorce case, the litigation process can vary. For example, if your spouse is a narcissist who abuses you or engages in  coercive control, the process may be different than someone who has simply decided that they are better off as friends with their spouse.

Every divorce case starts the same way: someone files a petition for a divorce, and the other spouse responds to it. At this point, the spouses have an option:

  • They can work together (along with their attorneys) to craft a divorce agreement that works for them. This is a collaborative divorce.
  • They can go through mediation to hash out any lingering disputes they could not resolve on their own.
  • They can file a Complaint with the court to make determinations about the final agreement. This is litigation.

If an agreement or plan cannot be reached and litigation is necessary:

  • One spouse files the complaint; the other spouse is given an opportunity to respond.
  • Both parties meet during a scheduling conference, where a Magistrate sets out the dates and timeline for your case.
  • A hearing is scheduled to address issues like child support, health care, use of the family car or home, custody of the children or pets, and so forth for the duration of the divorce process.
  • Both parties exchange information and documentation (called discovery).
  • Both parties are given a chance to settle their differences (usually through mediation) one last time.
  • The formal trial, called a merits hearing, begins. Here, the parties will be required to present their evidence, documents, and arguments to a judge and wait for the judge’s decision. Both parties have the opportunity to also use witnesses to persuade the judge.

At almost any time during the litigation process, both parties may decide to work together to develop a plan or agreement regarding child custody, child support, property division, co-parenting, and more. After the plan or agreement is established, they must show it to the judge for approval. This gives couples the opportunity to decide to settle some of their issues outside of court, while allowing a judge to handle the issues that they cannot resolve together.

All rulings made by the judge will become legal binding orders, which must be followed at all times. Keep in mind that it can take a long time for a judge to issue a decision in a family law or divorce trial.

The divorce litigation process can be challenging, but at McCabe Russell, PA, we are here to guide you at every stage. If you are ready to take back control of your life with the help of a knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced Columbia divorce lawyer, please call our office or submit our contact form to schedule your case evaluation today. We have four different office locations for our clients to conveniently access when needed, which are in Columbia, Rockville, Fulton, and Bethesda.