Basics on How a Contested Family Law Case is Tried in Tennessee

With all of the court drama on TV, including Judge Judy and our own Judge Joe Brown, you might be wondering what to expect if you are not able to work out a settlement in your divorce case. To begin with, the trial will be before the Judge, not a jury.

The general practice is for the attorneys for each party to give opening statements where they tell the Judge their client’s version of the facts and what relief is sought. Then the party that filed the Complaint, also known as the plaintiff, will begin with his or her proof, which will include the testiomony of that party and any witnesses. The attorney for the plaintiff will ask direct questions of the plaintiff. Then, the other party, known as the defendant, can have his or her attorney cross-examine the plaintiff. If depositions were taken then the attorney for the defendant may use that sworn testimony to impeach (discredit) the plaintiff’s testimony by further questioning if the plaintiff gives differing testimony on the witness stand than at the deposition. The defendant’s attorney can also cross-examine each of the plaintiff’s witnesses.

Once the plaintiff has finished presenting his or her proof, then the defendant will testify and present witnesses with the direct exam of his or her attorney. The plaintiff’s attorney may cross-examine and impeach those witnesses. After the defendant presents his or her proof, the Judge may allow rebutal proof, which is where the parties again testify, or present witnesses, to counter any testimony that was brought up after that party presented proof.

At the end of the trial, the Judge will allow the attorneys to present closing arguments. In the closing arguments, the attorneys will summarize the proof that was introduced at trial by the testimony of witnesses and exhibits, and argue the applicable law. The Judge may then rule from the bench, or take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling later after further review of the law and proof.

While a divorce proceeding may be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, it usually does not rise to the level of courtroom drama seen on television. The Judge requires that the attorneys and their clients conduct themselves professionally without shouting, courtroom antics, and badgering of the witnesses.

For more information, contact us at 901-844-7141, or