What Is a Bench Trial for a Divorce Like in Arizona?

by Beverly Bird
A bench trial means that one judge will decide your case.

A bench trial means that one judge will decide your case.

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Arizona judges do not want to decide the details of your divorce for you. The state gives divorcing spouses every opportunity to reach a settlement on their own, but settlements can cover a lot of ground and agreement isn't always possible. If any outstanding issues remain unresolved between you and your spouse, you'll have to request a trial date from the court.

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Bench Trials

A bench trial is one that does not involve a jury, and it is the only kind available in family court in Arizona. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on whether you have the sympathy of the judge. Judges are only human, and they have a great deal of discretion to decide divorce issues under Arizona law. If the judge decides that you're being unreasonable or greedy, this might color his opinion of you, and he alone decides the outcome of your divorce. Arizona assigns judges to divorce cases early on in the proceedings. The same judge monitors your divorce all the way through, so by the time you get to trial, he probably already has an opinion regarding you, your spouse and your case.

Outstanding Issues

If there's even one issue you and your spouse can't agree on, then resolving it requires a trial. However, this doesn't mean you have to present evidence and testimony regarding all the issues you do agree on. You can stipulate to the court that these issues don't have to be tried because they're already settled. The trial can focus on only the issues you haven't been able to resolve. You can try custody only, or if you agree on custody, you can try property division and spousal support. In some cases, you can even litigate the divorce grounds. Arizona is normally a no-fault state, but it recognizes covenant marriages, which are marriages in which spouses sign a contract prior to the marriage, vowing to stay together for life. If you entered into a covenant marriage, you can file for divorce on fault grounds, regardless of your contract, and your spouse can dispute the grounds and force you to prove them.

The Process

Bench trials are an orderly process. If you filed the petition for divorce and started the proceedings, you -- or your attorney -- get to present your case to the judge first. This involves calling witnesses to give testimony. If a lawyer represents you, he will probably call you to testify. Testimony can involve physical exhibits, such as photographs or financial statements, that the lawyer will ask you to explain for the judge. Then, your spouse or his attorney has an opportunity to question you, and finally, your own attorney will question you again -- usually to clear up any misunderstandings created when your spouse's attorney was asking you questions. The whole process then reverses and your spouse, or his attorney, go through the same questioning procedure, calling their own witnesses. Finally, you and your spouse, or your attorneys, have the opportunity to speak one last time to the judge and attempt to convince him to rule in your favor.

Conclusion

In all likelihood, the judge won't make a ruling right after closing arguments, when you or your attorneys speak to the judge one last time. Depending on the complexity of your case and how many issues you were trying, he'll most likely want to review all the evidence and testimony first. The court creates a record of the proceedings, either digitally or recorded by a court reporter. Arizona law gives judges 100 days to review the record and issue a written decision, as well as a court order ending your marriage by whatever terms he's decided. This judgment or decree also includes any stipulations you've agreed to.