What to expect at the final hearing
Once all discovery has been completed, the case is ready to be set for final hearing. Generally, the court will schedule what is known as a “pretrial conference” first. At this conference, you will reveal to the court what the issues are, provide a list of your witnesses and a list of your exhibits, and give a synopsis of the facts of the case. This process eliminates any surprises about the other’s case at the final hearing. You cannot bring a surprise witness or a surprise exhibit to court at the final hearing.
The court needs to rule upon all issues that have not been resolved between the parties. The issues generally are time-sharing, alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, and attorney fees.
In an uncontested case, the final hearing lasts approximately five minutes and is done without the benefit of a pretrial conference. The other spouse’s attendance is not required and the court will enter the Final Judgment at that time.
In a contested case, the parties will present their witnesses and exhibits and make argument to the court as to how they want the court to rule. The judge is the trier of both fact and law, so it is important to provide appropriate proof to the court for the Final Judgment.
Please keep in mind that minor children may not be brought to court to appear as a witness or attend a hearing without prior approval of the court, unless there is an emergency. Generally, the court will not take testimony of the minor child if they are younger than 13 or lack the maturity to appropriately testify. Sometimes the court will talk to the parties’ minor children in chambers without either parent or attorney being present. This allows for a more free and unfettered conversation between the child and the judge and takes the pressure away from the child to testify either one way or the other. Please take into account the emotional effect that this may have on the child before asking him or her to testify in court.
It is important to be properly prepared for the final hearing because the court expects a concise presentation of witnesses and exhibits, and continuances are not allowed once the case has begun.