In the first two parts of this article, I focused on the significance of a contested Denver area divorce or custody hearing and the first procedure steps in terms of sequence and timing. In those posts, I discussed opening arguments, testimony, and what can be expected at each of those phases. This final segment will address the wrapping up of testimony, into closing arguments, and the potential for the court to rule from the bench. As indicated at the end of part two, I will also briefly address the rules of evidence as relates to testimony.
As seen in movies or on television, a contested hearing entails the presenting of evidence to the court. It will generally include the parties getting up onto the stand and testifying. It may also include other witnesses. In an Arapahoe County custody case, or any other divorce or custody case in Colorado, the hearing will be held in front of a judge, not a jury. In a family law case, the judge is ultimately going to be the one making the decision based on the facts presented as evidence. Aside from making that final ruling, the judge will also serve almost as a referee related to what can and cannot be admitted or heard, based on the rules of evidence. Throughout the hearing, the attorneys may make various objections while a witness is testifying. The primary ones will be relevance, hearsay, calls for speculation, leading the witness, or lack of foundation. For evidence or testimony to properly come in it must comport with the rules of evidence. The primary one a witness will be faced with is hearsay, which will generally entail that witness trying to testify regarding what hear or she heard someone else say. It will always be the attorney’s job to deal with evidentiary issues and to try to make sure testimony is heard. In reality some statements might never get into evidence.
After both sides have presented any testimonial or other evidence, thus resting their respective cases to be heard, each side will normally be given a chance to make closing arguments. Closing arguments are essentially a way for each side to summarize the evidence for the court, including making or reiterating requests for how the court should rule and logically setting forth why. Closing arguments can be a last chance to give the court proverbial food for thought on an issue or to further educate the judge on the subjects being litigated. Closing arguments should be based on the evidence presented and bringing new facts into play which were not presented during the evidentiary phase will likely draw an objection. During the closing arguments, and sometimes even during testimony, the judge might also ask questions of the attorneys or the parties to help them better understand a particular issue or request. Once closing arguments are done, the final phase of any hearing will be the ruling.
Courts can make their final decisions regarding custody, visitation, child support, alimony, or what ever other issues are at hand, as they see fit. At some hearings, the judge will be ready to make an oral ruling, from the bench, at the conclusion. In other instances, the judge might take a brief recess to go back into chambers to review their notes and the exhibits. In case in which there are a wide array of issues, the court may take the evidence under advisement and either issue a written ruling at a later date or set the matter for a further, in person ruling. There is no hard and fast rule really adhered to as to when a court will rule. If not in person, most rulings, or orders, are handed down within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, with the overloaded judicial system, I have seen cases in which a court has taken three months or more to rule. Contrary to popular belief, calling the court clerk repeatedly to bug him or her as to when the ruling will be issued isn’t the way to go and can often irritate the clerk. In reality, the court will rule when it will rule and sometimes people have to wait.
In any Denver divorce or custody matter, there is the potential for an emergency or forthwith hearing. In these instances, courts will sometimes relax the rules of evidence or shorten the time each side has to present evidence. As such, it’s important for attorneys and parties to be ready to move quickly. Emergency hearings are not the norm and are, thus, left for another article and another day. Knowing the potential for each case to lead to a contested hearing, it’s alway better to contact an experienced Denver family law attorney to help you get ready for your day in court.