What does it really feel like to sit in that courtroom in a contested hearing?
When the divorce process begins, it can be difficult to know what to expect. If you are the person who filed, you may be holding your breath waiting for your spouse to get served. If you have just been given papers, you may be shocked and have no idea what to do next. There will be different phases of the process, but in the end, if you and your ex can't settle, the case will end in a contested hearing. If you have never been through a divorce hearing, you may want to know: What does it really feel like to sit in that courtroom in a contested hearing?
The Contested Divorce Hearing
Wisconsin contested divorce hearings will occur in the circuit court where you filed your case as long as the court still has jurisdiction. There is a 120-day mandatory waiting period before you can have a divorce hearing. If you and your ex have children and cannot agree on custody and placement, you will have to attend court-ordered mediation before you will be permitted to schedule a final hearing. The court will set the hearing on its docket and provide notice of the hearing date. The attorneys for the parties usually let the court clerk know how long they will need for the hearing so the judge can reserve the time on his or her schedule. Most judges are particular about attorneys keeping within their stated time limits.
Each county has its own procedures, and each judge his or her own way of running their docket. Sometimes judges will have the contested hearing cases ready and waiting while they attend to other matters in the courtroom (cases are heard publicly). Other courts may only have one scheduled case at a time. When the hearing date is scheduled, the judge may send out a pre-trial order requesting that the parties take care of certain preliminary matters before the hearing.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin courts have had to change the way they are conducting in-person hearings. All circuit courts are working towards offering in-person hearings, and some counties are conducting them with participants using personal protective equipment and social distancing. Others are using videoconferencing to hold hearings. The courts were closed when the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S. in March, and several divorce and family law cases had to be rescheduled. Today, depending on when and where you schedule a contested hearing, it may be in person or over videoconferencing.
Even though things have changed with respect to how Wisconsin family courts are conducting hearings, actually participating in a contested hearing in your case can be intimidating and emotional. Once you get to the point that you have a contested hearing, you and your ex probably will have been through a lot of frustrating exchanges. The hearing usually begins with each side's attorney making a brief opening statement. Your ex may testify and say things that upset you. You may be asked painful questions under cross-examination by your ex's attorney. Both attorneys will admit evidence and may call other witnesses. After each side closes, the attorneys will make their closing arguments. The judge will most likely dismiss everyone at the end of the hearing and issue his or her decision later. This is true for motion hearings during the ongoing divorce process, and the final divorce trial if it comes to that.
Most Wisconsin divorce cases do end up settling before reaching the contested hearing stage. Parties can use processes like divorce mediation and Collaborative Divorce to minimize conflict and develop agreements that meet their needs and work for their circumstances.