What to Know About Divorce Trial Opening Statements

A marriage is about joining two lives together at multiple Lawyer-with-Judge-300x200different touchpoints. When you agree to a marriage, you interweave almost every aspect of your life with your partner. For that reason, when a divorce takes place, it can be very complicated to untangle the situation, and make sure that both people come away feeling in-tact, and secure. While some cases of divorce can be handled with alternative dispute resolution strategies like mediation and collaborative law, some will eventually find themselves in front of the New York court. If your divorce requires litigation, then it’s worth understanding the different elements of a divorce trial, which you may need if your case does not settle ahead of time.

The opening statement for a divorce trial is basically the introduction to your case. It gives the judge context that they can use to understand the story behind your divorce. Petitioning parties in New York courts provide their opening statement to begin with, before the responding party has their opportunity. The important thing to remember about opening statements is that they’re generally not argumentative. Divorce lawyers like myself are not permitted to comment on the credibility of the other side during these statements, nor can we craft a story in an attempt to appeal to prejudice or passion.

The divorce trial is conducted in front of a judge, except for in cases that involve issues of grounds, which may be tried in front of a jury. Importantly, in New York, cases involving grounds trials are very rare, because of the presence of no fault divorce (which merely refers to grounds, not whether any other element is contested or uncontested). Divorce trials are about the issues in a divorce that cannot be resolved by the parties involved. For instance, litigation may be used to deal with problems surrounding parenting time and custody, equitable distribution of marital assets, child support, maintenance and more.

Presenting a Divorce Case with an Opening Statement

For an opening statement to be successful, it must introduce the nature of the divorce case to the people within the court room. Essentially, it’s about letting the other individuals involved in your case know what your divorce is all about, and which facts need to be addressed before decisions can be made. Because it’s an explanation, and not an argument, it’s important for divorce attorneys to remain calm, confident, and conversational in their presentation. Although some people believe that trials are won or lost entirely according to opening statements, this is probably not so true in a New York divorce as when the trial, is a bench trial (judge trial), the judge will often appreciate the lawyers waiving opening statements and moving right to the testimony.   This is because opening statements are not evidence and therefore Judge’s might prefer everyone to get right to the testimony which, on the other hand, is evidence to be considered in the case.

Opening statements, however, can be important, because they give a basis to the story that’s told by each party within a divorce.  The opening statement is the time for the divorce attorney to introduce the theme of the case. The opening statement is there to outline the facts that you hope to prove with evidence. While it is possible to slant the recitation of facts in a divorce case to address the story of a specific party – any information revealed must be truthful, and not altered by emotion or exaggeration.

When asked to produce an opening statement for a divorce case, divorce attorneys such as myself will focus on creating an introduction, body, and conclusion. The length of a statement can vary depending on the nature of the case, and how long it takes to create a clear picture of the current case. Style is important in opening statements for divorce cases, because they can be helpful in developing a rapport with the judge.  When used correctly, an opening statement can humanize a client, and give the judge an insight into the kind of person they are.

Making the Most of the Divorce Opening Statement

In divorce cases, the use of opening statements requires divorce lawyers to show a great deal of respect to the judge. It’s important to remain polite always, and make the most of an engaging theme to capture the attention of the judge. Using the rule of threes, and a careful tone, divorce attorneys must maintain eye contact with the people he or she is talking to throughout the case. In opening statements, there’s no time for note-taking, as it’s all about creating a relationship.

While rapport is being built, divorce attorneys can use the opening statement to identify all of the disputes that are important within the case. This helps the judge to see the story from the client’s point of view. However, it’s important to avoid saying “the evidence will show” too much. The polite nature of the opening statement also requires divorce attorneys to avoid any grand or aggressive gestures, including pointing and waving. In an effort to humanize the client even further, and improve the overall strength of the case, many attorneys will also use the body of the opening statement to address some of the weaknesses in their client’s case.

Although pointing out weaknesses in a divorce case can seem counterproductive, it helps to lessen the impact when the other side undoubtedly addresses the problems at a later time. By bringing any issues out into the open as quickly as possible, and highlighting the reasons behind those problems, it’s possible to mitigate some of the damage to the case, and also highlight the client as an honest and transparent person.

The Power of Opening Statements

Opening statements can vary drastically from one case to the next. While some come from the narrative of a party, others can be given from the point of view of an inanimate object. In almost all cases, a divorce attorney will try to present themselves as a champion for their client, showing that they truly believe in that person, and their cause. This can make it easier to see the client as a real, three-dimensional person, and ensure that the judge can understand the needs that drive the client from a deeper perspective.

To learn more about how divorce attorneys can use opening statements to present a person’s case during a litigation trial, read through our other blog posts, or contact me, Mr. Darren M. Shapiro today. You can get in touch using my online form, or by telephone at 516-333-6555 to discuss the details of your case, and schedule your free thirty-minute initial consultation