The majority of divorce cases reach some sort of settlement, whether through informal negotiation between the spouses and their attorneys or through more structured ADR proceedings. However, in some rare cases, a settlement cannot be reached. This is usually because the spouses have radically different wishes and conceptions of what would be fair solutions on issues such as child custody and property division. In these cases, the divorce is handled in civil or "family" court, at the county or district branch of state court where the divorce petition was filed. While a single judge usually presides over the divorce trial, one or both spouses may have the right to request that the case be heard by a jury.
In family court, both attorneys present evidence and arguments related to the divorce on issues like child custody and visitation, child support and alimony, and property division. Evidence comes in the form of:
- Testimony from the spouses
- Witness testimony (this primarily refers to children of age and expert witnesses, mostly with regard to issues of money and property)
- Documents related to marital property and finances
After the presentation of evidence and arguments, the other side has an opportunity to question witnesses and challenge evidence through "cross-examination." That is, they can challenge the witness's stories, test their credibility, dispute documents, and otherwise attempt to discredit or discount witnesses and evidence.
Finally, the judge (or jury) issues a final ruling that resolves the divorce and all surrounding issues. Once the decision is reached, the judge grants the divorce and enters a judgment finalizing the divorce and all related issues. This judgment dictates:
- Child custody, living arrangements, and a visitation schedule
- Division of marital property, debts, and resolution of other financial matters
- Child support and alimony details