What To Expect In Court
You have probably never been to court before. You may be nervous. At Weinman & Associates, P.C. in Austin, we believe in the power of preparation. Our attorneys will take care to make sure you are ready and you know what to expect in court.
The Night Before Your Court Appearance
Gather any documentation or materials we have asked you to bring. Set out the clothes you are going to wear to court, choosing clean and professional attire. While you will likely have a lot on your mind, we encourage you to try to get a good night’s sleep. We want you to be well-rested and clear-headed in the courtroom.
The Day Of Your Court Appearance
Get to court early. We will let you know ahead of time what courtroom your case will be held in, and we will make arrangements about where we will meet you. There are also monitors in the hallway that list the day’s cases and their assigned courtrooms. Be aware that you will have to go through a metal detector at the courthouse, so prepare accordingly.
The Docket Call
When the judge appears, the first thing he or she will do is run through the docket, or the list of cases. The judge will determine which cases are ready to be heard. He or she will determine an order and assign the cases to a judge.
When Your Case Is Called
When the judge calls your case, we will accompany you to the counsel table, and the opposing party and his or her lawyer will take their places as well. Lawyers typically sit on the inside chairs, and represented parties typically sit on the far end of each table. The lawyers will first state their “appearances for the record.” For example, you may hear, “Daryl Weinman for Petitioner, Jane Jones, who is present.”
Administering The Oath
Before anything takes place the clerk will administer the following oath to both parties by instructing them to raise their right hands. The clerk will then ask: “Do you solemnly swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” In a clear and audible voice, both parties are required to say “I do.”
The judge will then ask the attorneys to make a brief statement of the facts and state the relief requested by each party.
Once the preliminaries are completed, the actual hearing or trial begins. The Petitioner (or Movant, depending on the type of hearing) puts on their case first by calling their witnesses. The Petitioner is the spouse who originally filed the divorce petition.
The hearing begins with Petitioner’s attorney calling his or her witnesses. Sometimes the first witness is the Petitioner, sometimes it is the Respondent, and sometimes it is someone else — it is a strategic decision of the attorney.
When questioning his or her own client or a friendly witness, the questioning is called direct examination. During direct examination, the attorney will ask questions that will enable the judge to understand his or her client’s position. In most cases, the attorney will have previously discussed direct testimony with the client and witnesses, so the questions should not come as a surprise. This is the time that you will get to tell your story guided by your attorney’s questions. The best rule of thumb is to listen to the question asked, answer the question asked, and only answer the question asked (don’t offer extra information or explanation).
After direct examination is completed, the other attorney is permitted to cross-examine the witness. Cross-examination gives the other attorney an opportunity to test the credibility of the witness and, on occasion, show the weaknesses in the other party’s case.
Admission Of Evidence
Once the foundation has been properly laid, the propounding attorney will ask, “Your honor, I am requesting that Petitioner’s Exhibit 1 be admitted into evidence.” Before the judge receives an exhibit, the other attorney will be asked if there are any objections to the document. As with oral testimony, there are many grounds for objecting to the receipt of documentary evidence, such as relevancy or hearsay.
Respondent’s Or Responding Party’s Case
After the Petitioner or Movant has presented all of his or her evidence, that party’s attorney will say, “Your honor, Petitioner rests.” It is then time for the other party’s attorney to present his or her case. The same procedures and rules discussed above are followed during the presentation of the other party’s case
When the responding party or the Respondent has finished his or her case, the trial is not necessarily over. The first party’s attorney now has the right to call “rebuttal” witnesses to contradict the other party’s evidence. The most common rebuttal witness is the other party, but any witness can be called for rebuttal purposes.
Once the testimony stage of the trial is complete, it is time for the attorneys to make their “closing arguments” to the judge. In the closing argument, each attorney summarizes the important points of the case, and tells the judge why his or her client should win on the various issues involved in the case. In their closing arguments, the attorneys will often refer to statutes or relevant appellate court decisions that are relevant to the case.
After the arguments are completed, the judge can either announce the decision orally in open court or take the matter “under advisement.” This means that the judge is going to think the case over and issue a written decision within a few weeks.
Completion Of The Hearing
Because of the staggering number of family law cases that are being filed, family law courts are becoming overburdened with cases. This means that even if your case is on the docket for a particular day, there is no guarantee that it will be completed, or even started, on that day. So, if your trial is set on a Monday, you should make sure you and your witnesses will be available all week, because your case may not begin on Monday morning.