The Divorce Hearing

What Happens At the Hearing for an Uncontested Divorce
Courtroom Demeanor
The Witness
Choosing a Witness
Marriage Certificate
End of Hearing
How the Decision is Made
When You Can Get Remarried

What happens at the hearing for an uncontested divorce?

The hearing for a non-contested divorce takes place before a master. A master is a lawyer that helps a judge decide a case. Your corroborative witness must go with you to the hearing. You should take copies of all the papers you have filed with the court, any other court orders you already have about custody, support, or property, and your separation agreement, if you have one (if you want it included in the divorce judgment). 

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Courtroom Demeanor

While waiting for your case to be called, maintain proper courtroom demeanor. Do not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum. If you must communicate, write notes- even soft talk can distract the master and interrupt the hearing that may be going on before you get your turn. Never argue with the master , or interrupt anyone else who is talking. You can emphasize or repeat anything you think it is important. Answer "yes" or "no" questions "Yes, Your Honor" and "No, Your Honor." Always thank the master at the conclusion of your case. 

The first thing that the master will ask you is your name. You should stand up, introduce yourself and say "Good morning, my name is . "I am the plaintiff, and I am representing myself for a divorce." This will let her know that you want a divorce and that you are not a lawyer. 

The hearing will be recorded either by a court stenographer (person who records everything said in court) or by a tape recorder. The master or the clerk will swear you in and may take a few minutes to look over your divorce complaint. The master will then ask you questions. 

The questions you will be asked will be simple and you should know the answers in advance. Try not to be nervous, but do not worry if you are. It is common for people to be nervous in front of a judge or master. You will be asked about your marriage, why you want a divorce and what you want (for example, custody, if it has not been decided previously). Then the master will decide the issue that you have raised. 

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The Witness

It is important to know that you and your corroborative witness should be very business-like in front of the master or judge. You should try not to laugh or talk unnecessarily. The master wants to complete the hearing as quickly as possible ( and so do you). The hearing should take approximately 10 minutes. 

There are certain thing you must tell the master. They include the following: 

  • Your name and where you live. 

  • Your spouse's name and address (if you know). 

  • When and where you were married. 

  • Exactly when you separated from your spouse. 

  • Names and ages of the children born to you and your spouse if any). 

  • With whom the children are living if they are minors (under eighteen) 

  • How long you have lived in Virginia. 

  • State what you want (a divorce).

The following questions, with slight variations in wording, will usually be asked the plaintiff at the hearing. However, if you are pro se, it is a good idea to have a statement prepared giving all the necessary information in case the master doesn't ask the questions himself. Many pro se litigants will ask themselves the questions and the provide their own answers: Here is a list of sample questions with answers in parentheses: 

  1. Please state your name and address. 

  2. How long have you been a resident of Maryland? 

  3. Has your residency been continuous? (Yes) 

  4. Did there come a time when you became married? (Yes) 

  5. To Whom? 

  6. When and where was that? 

  7. Can you identify this document? The marriage certificate is handed to you. (Yes, it is my marriage certificate, which I enter to the court as evidence). 

  8. Were there any children born of this marriage? 

  9. What are their names and ages? 

  10. Who has custody of the child? 

  11. When did you and your spouse separate? 

  12. Where were you living at the time of separation? 

  13. Who left? 

  14. Why did you separate? (We could not get along and agreed to go our separate ways). 

  15. Has this separation been voluntary, continuous, and uninterrupted for more than a year? (Yes). 

  16. During the time of separation did you and your spouse resume any cohabitation? (No) 

  17. Are there any property rights to be settled by the Court? (No). 

  18. Is there any reasonable hope or expectation for a reconciliation? (No) 

  19. Are you (or is your husband) a fit and proper person to have custody of your minor child? (Yes.) 

  20. Have provisions been made for the support of your minor child? (Yes, my husband has agreed to pay me $150 a week which complies with the minimum Virginia State Guidelines based upon our incomes). 

  21. Can you identify this document? The Virginia Child Support Worksheet is handed to you. (Yes, this is the Virginia Child Support Worksheet that I completed previously, which I enter to the court as evidence.). 

You must have your corroborative witness back up what you say to prove your grounds for divorce. Your witness cannot say what you told her, but can say what she has seen and what your spouse told her. If you are seeking a divorce on the grounds of one-year voluntary separation, and you do not have a sworn separation agreement, your witness must testify that you and your spouse voluntarily agreed to separate and how she knows that fact. The witness verifies your residency, your date of separation, the fact that you and your spouse are no longer living together and cohabiting, that the separation has been voluntary and continuous, and that there is no hope for a reconciliation. 

The witness is asked the following questions by the master, or you can ask the questions yourself: 

  1. Please state your name and address? 

  2. How long have you known the plaintiff? 

  3. Where does the plaintiff live? 

  4. How long has the plaintiff been a resident of Virginia? 

  5. Did there come a time when you learned that the parties separated? 

  6. When and how did you learn about it? (They separated on May 1, 1994 and I witnessed him leaving the house with his suitcases when he was moving). 

  7. Do you have occasion to visit the plaintiff? 

  8. How often? 

  9. Have you seen the defendant or any evidence of his living there? 

  10. Do you feel that there is any hope for reconciliation?(No, there is no hope of reconciliation). 

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Choosing a Witness 

Your witness can be almost anyone: a friend, a parent, a neighbor, a relative, even your own grown children, Your witness should be someone who knows you and your situation well and, also, someone whom you can trust. 

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Marriage Certificate 

Don't forget to bring a certified copy of your marriage certificate with you to the hearing.

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End of Hearing

It is extremely important that neither the plaintiff nor the witness give any more information than is asked for. There have been many cases in which the divorce did not go through because people started to talk too much. Picture this" "Have you seen the defendant or any evidence of his living there?" (well, a lot of his clothes are still there. and his stereo. And I have seen him over there a coupe of times. Just a couple of months ago, he was over having breakfast with Ann). An answer like that could cause the master to stop or rescind the divorce action. This does not mean that you should lie, which is perjury. Just be sure to answer the questions simply and directly. 

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How the Decision is Made

When a master holds the hearing, the master will make written recommendations to a judge who will make the final decision. The master may prepare the divorce judgment for you. Either orally at the hearing or later in writing, the master will tell you her recommendations. If you disagree with those recommendations, you can file a notice of intention to file exceptions (a specific list of thing with which you disagree) within five days after you get the master's recommendations. The master will the file a written report with her recommendations and send you a copy, and you can then file your exceptions within ten days of the day the recommendations were filed. There are other things you must do, such as get a transcript (typed copy of what was recorded at the hearing) within thirty days. 

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At your divorce hearing, you will give a copy of the written judgment that you have signed to the master unless you are told not do so. A judge will review your case and then sign the written judgment you have submitted, unless there is a problem with it. The judgment states that you are divorced and what the judge has decided about the rights of you and your spouse in the divorce (for example, you are awarded custody, your spouse is awarded visitation, etc.). After the judge signs the judgment and gives it to the clerk, the judgment becomes final, and the clerk will send you a copy. 

After your divorce hearing, you must fill out a blue vital statistics form the state uses to record all divorces. The form asks for your name, your spouse's name, your address, etc. If the master does not give you the form to fill out, you must go the clerk's office to fill out the form and five it back to the clerk. The clerk will certify your divorce and send your form the Bureau of Vital Statistics. 

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When Can You Get Remarried? 

It is best to wait thirty (30)days after the date of your divorce judgment before you marry someone else. If you wanted to, you could remarry when the judgment is signed. However, your divorce could be appealed by your spouse within thirty days after the judgment of divorce is filed with the clerk. If your spouse appeals the divorce, the court of Special Appeals (the next higher court) might rule that your divorce is invalid (not legal) for some reason, If that happened, you would still be married to your first spouse and your second marriage would not be valid.

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