Informal Trials – Is It Right For You?
Utah law allows you to have your case decided using an “informal trial” if both sides agree to this process. While normally these are used in child custody, parent-time, and support cases, they can also be used to resolve alimony, property, and practically any other family court issue. .
What makes an “informal trial” different from a “formal trial”? Mainly the entire process is streamlined so you can have the entire case heard quickly – sometimes in just a couple hours. This means you can save a tremendous amount of money in legal costs and may not have to wait months for a trial date.
A formal trial often takes months to schedule because the judge has to book several full-days in order to hear your case. A great deal of preparation is needed to prepare exhibits and for questioning witnesses. The trial itself may take days because each side must call witnesses one at a time and take turns questioning them. There are rigid rules of evidence that apply that limit the kinds of questions that can be asked and what evidence the judge may consider. There is a detailed process each side must go through to have the judge consider any evidence.
In contrast, with an informal trial the process is less rigid and time consuming. Each side takes a turn speaking to the court about his or her desires about whatever issues are in dispute and whatever information they want the Judge to know. The Judge asks all the questions. While attorneys and the other party can suggest questions to the Judge, the Judge decides what to ask. The rules of evidence do not apply so either party can present whatever material they want the Judge to consider and the Judge gets to decide what weight to give that evidence. The Court may call other witnesses or may rely upon witness statements. If there is an expert, the expert’s report may be entered into evidence and the expert may be questioned by the Judge, parties, or counsel upon request. At the end each side or their attorney is allowed to make a closing statement and respond to the other side’s arguments. The Judge then renders a decision which is just as binding as if it had been entered after a formal trial.
The benefit of doing an informal trial is it is quicker and often cheaper and you get to tell your story to the Judge without having to deal with irritating objections from the opposing side. The downside is each side’s ability to question the other party and their witnesses and object is limited which may hinder your ability to prove the other side is not being truthful and ensure the Judge considers important information. Because the rules of evidence do not apply, statements that might not be allowed at a formal trial (such as hearsay, speculation, and legally privileged information) may be considered as evidence by the Judge at an informal trial.
An attorney helps clients going through an informal trial by helping them assemble the evidence they want the Judge to consider in a way that is persuasive and compelling. They help clients prepare effective witness statements and expert reports. They help coach clients to persuasively present their story to the Judge in a way likely to result in a favorable ruling. They help the Judge ask the right questions to opposing parties and witnesses to ensure the truth comes out. And they offer closing arguments on behalf of clients at trial to persuade the Judge to rule in their client’s favor. Many people find it helpful to have their “day in court” and know that the Judge heard from them personally in deciding what to order.
Deciding whether a formal or informal trial is the best way to resolve your case is an important decision. Give the experienced family law attorneys at Wiser Family Law a call today at 855-254-2600 to discuss whether an informal trial is right for you.