Part 4: Advice from a Kalispell Divorce Attorney: What is the difference between a Contested Hearing and a Trial?Marybeth Sampsel
Over the last several weeks I have been blogging about the different kinds of hearings one can expect if they are involved in a Montana divorce (dissolution) or Montana parenting case. For more information, see Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 of this series. Today’s blog is about the differences between a contested hearing and a trial.
When most people think of a trial, they picture an episode of Law & Order: a packed courtroom, a dozen jurors, as many lawyers and so on. While some real-life trials really do look that way, divorce trials do not. In Montana, divorce and parenting cases are always done in front of a judge (a.k.a. “bench trial”) rather than in front of a jury (a.k.a. “jury trial”). There are occasionally friends or family members in the courtroom observing, but by and large, the spacious courtroom seems pretty darn empty. Of course, the Judge will be there, as will a court reporter, a clerk and probably a bailiff.
A divorce or parenting trial looks almost exactly like a contested hearing, just longer and often dealing with several issues rather than one or two. Much like a contested hearing, each side will put on testimony, witnesses and will submit evidence to the court. At the end of the trial, the Judge has the option to take the matter under advisement or to issue a decision right there (a.k.a. “ruling from the bench”).
One of the biggest differences between a trial and a contested hearing is that the trial is intended to bring the case to a close and give the parties some finality. While a contested hearing may have been held to deal with interim parenting and the parties continued to fight about interim parenting throughout the case, the trial will result in a Final Parenting Plan. There may also be squabbling about interim property issues, but the trial determines the Final Property Distribution of the parties. “Final” can be a bit of a misnomer in divorce and parenting cases, as we all know that parenting plans are often up for review as years pass.
If someone is unhappy with the results of a contested hearing, they may be able to seek relief through the district court at trial or at another hearing. If a party is unhappy with the result of a trial, there only option (with some VERY limited exceptions) is to appeal to the Supreme Court. If you need information about appeals, see my previous blog series all about Appealing Montana Divorce or Parenting Cases.