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Ge Ready . . . Get Set . . . Go: What Will Happen at Court?

gavel-2-1236453-300x200By: Johanna E. Blumenthal

If you have ever called a law office seeking legal services in a pending case, you were probably asked whether anything was set with the court and, if so, what was set. This information is crucial because what one can expect and what one needs to do in order to be prepared for a setting with the court depends upon what type of setting it is.  In family law court, there are generally five major types of settings. Each is explained below.

Status Conferences

Status conferences differ from hearings in the sense that the court typically is not taking evidence at a status conference. The types of orders that are issued after a status conference are generally procedural in nature or to the extent they are substantive, they reflect stipulations of the parties. Status conferences are set routinely: at the beginning of a new case, in order to oversee the implementation of some orders, to ensure parties are ready for a hearing and at the request of the parties. Holding a status conference is a way for the court to manage and oversee the case. The most common type of status conference is an initial status conference. 

Initial status conferences (ISCs) are held early in a newly filed domestic relations case. The initial status conference can be overseen by a judge, a magistrate or a family court facilitator depending upon the court and whether parties are represented by attorneys. Where the location of the ISC is will help you to determine who is presiding over the ISC. At the ISC the court will determine what is needed to get your particular case from that day to final resolution. The court will set deadlines and hearings as the court deems necessary based upon the circumstances of the case. You should bring a calendar to the ISC to clear proposed hearing dates. The ISC is not a time to make your case to the court. However, it can be a time to let the court know that there is an urgent matter that needs attention. The court can then deal with the matter appropriately by either instructing you to file a motion or to set a hearing.

Temporary Orders Hearings

Temporary orders refer to orders that will be in place from the time of filing a petition or motion until resolution of the case. Temporary orders are requested at the initial status conference or by motion to the court. Temporary orders hearings are contested hearings that are usually set for 1 to 3 hours. Temporary Orders Hearings can be presided over by a judge or magistrate depending upon the subject matter and the court. The court will take testimony and admit evidence at the hearing. Parties can ask for temporary orders for maintenance, child support, exclusive use of property, payment of bills or debts, parenting time and decision making. What is decided at a temporary orders hearing does not have to be the same as what will be entered at a final or permanent orders hearing. 

Permanent Orders Hearings

Permanent order hearings refer to hearings that are held to resolve the ultimate issues in the pending petition for dissolution of marriage or allocation of parental responsibilities. These are contested hearings at which the court will hear testimony and take evidence. They are typically set for a half day, full-day or sometimes even two days. These hearings are presided over by the Judge. 

Non-Contested Hearings

A non-contested hearing is a hearing that the court may set when parties have filed a stipulated parenting plan and/or separation agreement resolving all the pending issues between them. The court does this to take jurisdictional information from the parties needed to enter the orders and to ensure that both parties have entered into their agreements freely and voluntarily. 

Emergency Hearings

Emergency hearings refer to protection orders and motions to restrict parenting time. Because a party can get an order that restricts the other party based upon alleged danger in an ex-parte (one party talking to the court without the other party) proceeding, the court is required to hold a hearing within 14 days of the issuance of such an ex-parte order. There is often less notice and time to prepare for these hearings. However, they are still hearings at which the court will take testimony and exhibits as evidence. 

 Other types of hearings

There are other types of hearings that the court can set under various scenarios, including motions hearings (to resolve post-decree motions), contempt advisements/hearings and preliminary hearings  (to determine pre-requisite matters such as whether ra party has capacity to participate in a hearing, whether there was a common law marriage, and whether certain evidence should be allowed). Essentially, the court could hold a hearing on any matter that may arise in a divorce, child custody, or other family law case. They key thing is to ensure you know what the subject of the hearing will be long before you show up. 

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