Learning about courtroom procedure in a Montana divorce or custody caseMarybeth Sampsel
There is a great deal of valuable and reliable information available for divorce litigants regarding Montana family law works and where to find forms to file. However, there seems to be a lack of information on how divorce procedure works. This leaves many litigants, particularly unrepresented litigants, completely terrified of walking into court. Though it is impossible to convey the finer points of trial advocacy through a blog, some basic tips about what to expect when you walk in to court can help ease some of that anxiety.
Scheduling, practice and procedure can very from county to county and even from judge to judge. Because of that, I strongly urge anyone with a hearing/trial to go and observe their local court and the judge specifically assigned to their case. In Flathead County (where I the bulk of my practice takes place), you can access each of the Judges’ court schedules (also known as the “docket”) online. Nearly all court proceedings are open to the public, so do not hesitate to go see the courtroom, watch your judge in action, and become familiar with how your judge runs her/his courtroom. I find that seeing where your hearing/trial will take place and watching how your judge works calms a massive amount of those pre-hearing jitters.
If you are involved in a divorce case, you can pick out a hearing for another divorce case. You will know it is a divorce case because the case will be called “In re Marriage of____.” For parenting cases, find a case called “In re Parenting of ______.” Though the online docket does not tell you what kind of hearing it is (i.e. child support, contempt, interim parenting, etc.), you can always contact the Clerk of District Court to find out what kind of motion the hearing is about.
Spending some time in the courtroom is one of the easiest ways to learn about court procedure. Pay attention to where the parties sit, how witnesses are sworn, and what kinds of questions the witnesses are asked. Taking this simple step will ease a lot of your concern about heading into a courtroom for your own hearing or trial.