Most often, judges hold a pre-trial conference or status conference, ahead of a final hearing.
The purpose of the pre-trial conference is to acquaint the judge with the case, to settle all or some issues, to stipulate facts, to decide the time for trial, and generally to shorten the trial and make it smoother. Unfortunately, the pre-trial conference is sometimes a waste of the lawyers’ time and the clients’ money.
Before taking any testimony at a final hearing, the judge must ask you and your spouse, if present, whether or not there is any possibility of reconciliation. He may also ask this at a temporary hearing.
Before taking any testimony, the lawyers should make short opening arguments to advise the judge what they intend to prove through their witnesses and exhibits, although many family court judges discourage opening arguments.
The parties present proof through testimony and exhibits. The moving party, usually the plaintiff, presents his or her case first. The lawyer calling the witness will question the witness. This is direct examination. The opposing lawyer then questions or cross-examines the witness. This may continue with redirect examination and re-cross-examination until there are no more questions of that witness. After the plaintiff calls all of its witnesses, the defendant will then call its witnesses and following the same procedure. The plaintiff may, but rarely does, call reply witnesses.
Unless an exhibit is admitted into evidence by agreement of the parties, a witness must first identify it. If a party objects to an exhibit, then the judge must rule on its admissibility.
After finishing the testimony, the lawyers may summarize or argue their positions in closing arguments to the judge. Judges who discourage opening arguments generally discourage closing arguments.