order and/or prepare for trial. Common orders include custody and parent time orders, child support orders, alimony, possession of home / vehicles, payment of debts.
Many courts expect you to “proffer” your evidence while others will set out an “evidentiary hearing”. You may need to contact the court or a local attorney to find out which type your hearing will be. If your hearing is by proffer, you will need to be prepared to explain your case to the court and why the court should rule on your behalf. If your hearing is by way of evidentiary hearing, you will need to be prepared to testify, call witnesses, and present evidence which supports your case. Regardless of which way you present your case, you will need to understand the law that supports your position and be prepared for how to apply the facts of your case to the applicable laws.
Review / Status Hearings: These hearings are typically attached to other hearings, such as Temporary Orders hearings or Order to Show Cause hearings. These hearings are typically focused on one or two factual issues that the court wants to know about. As a result, it is important to know exactly what the court will want to learn at the hearing so you can know how to prepare and what to present at the hearing. There hearings are more often than not by proffer.
Order to Show Cause Hearing: These hearings are scheduled when there is an allegation that an order isn’t being followed. The purpose of these hearings is to determine whether the order really isn’t being followed, and if it is not, then how to remedy the situation. The party requesting the hearing, often called the “moving party,” must clearly spell out exactly what the order is and how it is being violated. The "responding party" will then have an opportunity to explain their side of the case at the hearing. These hearings can be proffer or evidentiary hearings and it is critical to understand the law that supports your position and be prepared for how to apply the facts of your case to the applicable laws.
Temporary Restraining Order Hearing: These hearings are similar to Temporary Orders Hearings in that they address time sensitive issues;
however, to get a “TRO hearing” (as they are often called), you need to demonstrate that absent immediate relief, irreparable harm will ensue. These hearings can be by proffer or evidentiary hearing and are typically scheduled within 14 days. There are a number of formalities that must be complied with in these hearings and they should only be scheduled when there is an emergency matter that should be resolved. More often than not, these hearings are by way of evidentiary hearing and it is highly recommended to speak to an attorney before requesting a Temporary Restraining Order.
Relocation Hearing: These hearings are scheduled when there is a custody order in place and one of the parties is preparing to move away, which will make the current custody order unfeasible. These hearings will almost always be focused on what the best interest of the children will be in one state with one parent vs. the other state with the other parent. These hearings can be heard by way proffer or evidentiary hearings. The critical aspect of these cases is being able to communicate the applicable facts behind the move and explaining the benefits and consequences of the move on the children.
Pre-Trial Hearings: These hearings are typically scheduled for the purpose of certifying your case for trial and/or scheduling the trial. They are typically heard by proffer and require limited preparation – simply knowing all the issues at stake and knowing your schedule will suffice for these hearings. The key to these hearings is making sure you have complied with all the necessary requirements to get the hearing in the first place.
Scheduling Conference: These hearings are similar to Pre-Trial hearings in that they require little preparation and are typically conducted by proffer. The purpose of these hearings is to schedule out deadlines and/or future hearings. The key aspect in these hearings is to learn enough beforehand to understand what the judge will be telling you so that you can understand exactly what is being ordered. Otherwise, you may need to speak to an attorney afterwards to have it explained to you.
Informal Trial: The hearings are to make final determinations on the issues in your case. they are often limited to issues of custody, parent time, and child support. However, if the parties stipulate, and the court consents, the parties may hear additional issues in informal trials - such as property and debt division.
Informal trials are an alternative to traditional trial settings where the rules of evidence are strictly adhered to. In an informal trial, each party presents their case without interruption and the judge asks questions. Evidence is often automatically admitted (assuming you gave it to the court beforehand) and there are no objections allowed.
Informal trials can be great for when there isn't a great deal of factual dispute but you simply need to have a legal decision made. It can also be much easier on pro se parties (those who are representing themselves).
Trial: These hearings are likely what you envision when you think about court from what you see on T.V. These hearings are designed to help the court determine the set of facts that took place between the parties and then apply the law. At the conclusion of a trial, the court will make a final ruling on all the issues and your case will typically conclude (assuming there is no appeal). In these hearings you are allowed to call witnesses, present evidence, and object to the other parties evidence and testimony. It is typically rare for a case to make it to trial because of the time and expense it takes to get this far. However, in cases where there are important issues involved and strongly differing sets of fact, sometimes they are required. If you do make it this far, you will want to really understand the rules of evidence and how to present your case - or have someone representing you who does.
Tips and Common Mistakes at Hearings: See our Tips and Mistakes page.
Proffer: This is a method of presenting evidence to the court. It consists of you telling the court (in a brief summary) what you would have been able to prove to the court if you had an evidentiary hearing (a mini trial). If a court allows you to proffer evidence, you must bring your witnesses to court (even though they won't be called) and bring your physical evidence in case the court wants to see it. You can tell the court what your witnesses would say and what your physical evidence would prove. Proffer hearings are typically allowed where the court is low on time and the testimony / physical evidence is fairly reliable.
Evidentiary Hearing: This is another method of presenting evidence to the court. These are like mini trials. These hearings are typically scheduled for when there are a limited number of important issues that must be heard before a trial can be scheduled. These hearings are governed by the rules of evidence, meaning you need to know how to present your case, how to question witnesses, and how to prevent objectionable evidence from being admitted.
Moving party: This is the party of the case that files the motion / initiates the court action.
Responding party: This is the opposite of the moving party. This is the party who is typically on the defense.
Other definitions: If you have questions as to what any of the above terms mean, please contact us and let us know so we can add them to this list.
Preparing for a Hearing in Family Cases
Court is stressful! But if you know what to expect, that stress can be manageable. If you have a court hearing coming up, it is important to know what to expect and to be prepared for what the court will want to hear about. Not every hearing is the same. Some hearings are meant to simply keep the case moving forward while other hearings are held so that the judge can make an informed ruling on the case. In the following sections, some common hearings are explained. At the bottom of this page, definitions to certain legal terms are included.
Temporary Orders Hearing: These hearings are quite common in custody and divorce cases. The purpose of these hearings is to get orders on time-sensitive issues in while the parties attempt to negotiate a final