A divorce case will often be an emotional and complicated time for everyone involved. Feelings are hurt, and in some cases, sadness spurred by the end of a marriage can turn into anger, making the experience of litigation even harder to handle for those involved. While I am a strong believer in alternative dispute resolution through processes like mediation or collaborative law for couples willing and able to go those routes, often, litigation is the process used. As a divorce lawyer and child custody attorney, it’s my responsibility to help the people dealing with the complications of divorce to present their case as clearly, calmly, and effectively as possible in front of a New York judge. Often, this will mean telling a story on the behalf of the client, that begins with an opening statement, continues through to a body featuring witness testimonials, direct, and cross examination, and finishes with a closing statement.
From the very beginning when I start working with a client on their divorce case, we will discuss their circumstances in detail with them, and at times writing what I like to call “golden nuggets” of information down in the trial folder, so that we can refer to them later. This allows me to know what kind of story I want to tell throughout the course of the case, although it’s important to listen carefully to what the witnesses, and opposing lawyer says throughout the experience, as this can sometimes alter the considerations that need to be considered when presenting a divorce summation.
Telling a Story in Divorce Cases
The natural progression of a case from opening statement to closing statement is what helps to effectively tell the story of a client’s situation in a context that the judge can understand. Similarly to the opening statement, the closing statement in a divorce trial is intended to present all of the facts in front of the judge in a concise way, to enhance the understanding that he or she has of a client’s point of view. In the opening statement, if we make one (sometimes everyone appreciates just skipping right to the testimony) I attempt to outline what I’m going to prove to the judge on the behalf of my client, whereas in the closing statement, I attempt to show that I have done when I set out to do, to prove a particular point.
The key to an effective closing statement in divorce trials is making sure that you get the tone and information right. The evidence needs to be used to persuade as effectively as possible, to give the judge the best view of the client’s perspective. It’s not enough to simply list off witnesses during your closing statement, or paraphrase documents that you referred to before. Instead, attorneys such as myself need to draw attention to those golden nuggets we have highlighted, as well as specific testimonies or quotes that might be relevant to the case at hand.
The closing statement provided needs to be a concise look at what happened in the case, highlighting any areas that shine a positive light on an attorney’s client. The theme that’s used in the opening statement needs to remain present all the way through from the opening statement, to the closing statement, to ensure a certain level of consistency within the trial, however, divorce lawyers such as myself can’t simply get caught up in repeating the same facts. We need to use the evidence that we have at hand carefully, and make sure that we’re drawing focus to the facts, not just our opinions on the case. After all, though we might want to influence a judge’s opinion, the method that we use to do that must be based entirely in facts introduced into evidence.
Presenting an Effective Case
To make the most of a closing statement in a trial, divorce attorneys such as myself need to indicate that we understand the full truth of the situation at hand. That doesn’t simply mean that we draw focus exclusively to the parts of the case that are good for our client, but that we also identify and explain any problems with our case along the way, showing that we know our weaknesses, and that they don’t control the validity of the case at hand. After all, a closing statement is a divorce lawyer’s opportunity to convince the judge that our side of the story is the right one. However, we can’t do that simply by ignoring a portion of the facts. If we can portray ourselves as nothing more than conveyers of evidence, then we can show the judge that we’re simply delivering an objective insight into the matter at hand.
An effective closing statement also requires a divorce attorney to appear as fluid and natural as possible. We try to not make big and aggressive movements to try and get our point across. Instead, we endeavor to keep the tone as soft and respectful as possible, while showing slight periods of outrage at the appropriate moments. The more controlled and professional an attorney can appear during a divorce case, the better the chances for success, as too much emotion or aggression can be distracting.
For a divorce attorney, a closing statement is a natural part of telling the story of their client’s case. However, it’s also their last chance to make sure that they connect with the judge, and give the client a chance to really show his or her perspective on the case. With a little luck, we’ll leave something memorable in the court’s mind by referring back to the testimony, and reminding the judge that the decision that they make not only weighs on the success of the legal system, but also the future of my client. Indeed, it can often be effective to close a divorce summation with a sentence, phrase, or memorable anecdote that will echo within the mind of the judge as they make their decision.
To learn more about the importance of closing statements, and other elements within a divorce trial, read through some of our other blog posts and website. If you want to discuss the details of your own divorce case, you can contact me, Mr. Darren M. Shapiro to schedule a free initial consultation, up to a half-hour at your convenience. Contact me through our online form, or get in touch over the phone at 516-333-6555.