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What happens at a divorce trial?

Long Beach, CA |

Hi and thanks for your help. My STBX and I had a mandatory settlement conference with a mediator and we could not come to terms regarding spousal support and some property. Now we move on to trial - he has an attorney and I do not. What do I need to prepare for this?

I do agree my question was too simple! The 'property' involved is a chest freezer, a refrigerator and an iPhone (i do have the refrigerator, but he is totally lying about ever having an iPhone). My main concern is spousal support which is vital for me to have a roof over my head. I'm currently getting a temporary amount of $900 a month and his attorney is trying to drop it to $500 (my rent alone is $850). At the time the spousal support was awarded, i was unemployed. Now I am working part time, making about $240 a month. I am also having some medical issues with no health insurance. He makes about $3800 a month. What are my chances of keeping (or even raising) my current support? Thanks!

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Attorney answers 5

Best Answer

While I agree with the other posts urging you to get an attorney, they really did not answer your question. Please understand that it is not their fault. Your question is so broad, "What happens at a divorce trial" several volumes of information would need to be supplied in order to accurately and thoroughly answer. Since the space is limited for our responses, I will try to answer but realize that your case may be different and your experience in court may be different and I will run out of space before fully answering your question.
The issues in dispute will need to be identified (before trial). For example, if there are no children, then typical family law issues of custody and support are moot. If there are issues for the trial to partially resolve, such as your reference to "some property," a properly documented stipulation can narrow that issue for trial. Without a stipulation narrowing the dispute, the entire issue is subject to proof. For example, if there is an agreement concerning the division of 90% of the property and the property's value, that agreement could be reduced to a written trial stipulation leaving only the remaining 10% to be determined at trial. Without the stip, all property issues are open at trial. Once you know the issues and how the issues are framed (i.e., how the issue is disputed), then you must determine how you are going to prove your side of each dispute with admissible evidence. I stress admissible because there are over 1600 statutes in the California Evidence Code, 2100 statute in the Code of Civil Procedure, and 20,000 Family Law statutes as well as mandatory compliance with the Rules of Court and the Local Rules. The presentation of your proof must conform to the rules and be submitted utilizing the proper procedure. You will NOT be shown leniency for not having an attorney; in other words you must play by the rules, too. Likely some opening statement will occur which should describe the issues and what the evidence will show as to why you will win on those issues - at a minimum. Concerning the presentation of evidence, you may prove your side of the issues in dispute by witness testimony, exhibits, judicial notice, etc. Once again, organization and structure are paramount in order to ensure that your proof is accepted by the court and that you cover all of the issues.
Recognize that most self-represented people talk about having a good case with good evidence but lost their trial because ________ [fill-in excuse such as the judge didn't like me, the judge was bad, the judge won't listen]. In truth, what we lawyers see is the failure of the party to recognize the procedure and follow the rules to have their evidence admitted.
Each witness will provide direct testimony for the side calling the witness and be subject to cross examination by the opposing side. Documents get into evidence as 'exhibits' through witnesses who can authenticate and provide foundation for each document (see rules above). The petitioner puts on their evidence first and the respondent's case follows however the presentation of evidence flows from the witnesses and not which side of the case goes first. After the conclusion of the evidence, there likely will be a closing allowing both sides to frame the evidence in a manner that best suits their side of each issue. Each witnesses credibility will be subject to scrutiny in closing. Frequently, the court issues the ruling in writing on a date well after the trial concludes. This is a very good time to discuss settlement again since trial often better frames the evidence and the disputes than pre-trial mediation or a settlement conference.
I hope this helps. Clearly trial is a significant undertaking requiring many facets of knowledge and organization. As the others suggest, it is best to not go it alone. Maybe you will find additional information on our website linked below.

As stated above, this is an incomplete answer but an attempt to provide a cursory overview of a subject that attorneys 'practice' and improve upon during the entirety of their legal careers. This response is not meant as legal advice or as a legal opinion. Such advice would be impossible or impractical without additional information and more facts giving rise to the question. A consultation with an attorney is necessary.


Retain an experienced Family Law Attorney to advise and represent you as soon as possible, or you will be out-gunned at trial. If your STBX can afford to retain an attorney, he likely could be ordered to pay for some or all of your attorney's fees.

Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, as each situation is fact specific, and it is not possible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and court pleadings filed in the case. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.


It's always nice to have someone in your corner when you go to trial. If you can't afford an attorney, I recommend researching pro bono attorneys in your area or non-profit organizations that can assist you. Try contacting the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law ( and see if they can assist you. Best of luck.



Thank you for providing me info on the Harriett Buhai Center - unfortunately, they were not able to help because of time restraints. Thanks again!


I agree with Mr. Conviser. You should have an attorney. You should retain an attorney immediately and then have that attorney seek a continuance of the trial date so he or she can prepare and so he or she can file a motion to get an order that your STBX pay a portion of or all of your legal fees. The law favors family law litigants being on equal footing and that applies to legal representation as well.


Don't litigate over these small "property" matters. It isn't worth your time and the court will probably be upset that this wasn't resolved. On the spousal support matters, it all comes down to the "factors" in Family Code Section 4320. If you contend that you deserve spousal support, you will need to present the evidence to support your argument based on the 14 factors of the code. The length of time of your marriage will also be a relevant factor in determining the amount/duration of spousal support. I suggest that you get an attorney for this trial but try to work out the property matters.

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