In Domestic Relations Court, there are court appearances where only the attorneys or pro se litigants need to appear and others where all parties need to appear (petitioner, respondent and attorneys). If you are representing yourself pro se, you will need to be at every scheduled court date on your case. If you are represented by an attorney, there are only several mandatory instances when you would also have to appear in court: hearings, pre-trials, trials or any other direct Order from the Court demanding that you make an appearance. However, although it is not mandatory that you appear at every court date, you can attend. I have many clients that like to attend Court with me so that they can see what goes on and so the Judge can place a name with a face.
The main types of court appearances in domestic relations court are:
Status: Also known as a progress call is when the case is called in open court and the attorneys or pro se litigants are required to advise the court as to the progress of the case thus far. The court wants to know what has been done to move the case along and whether or not the court’s assistance is needed in doing so. The Court may inquire about any new issues that may have arisen in the case, how the discovery is progressing, if the happenings of the case are relatively on time, what the attorneys need to prepare for trial, and what special orders the court can enter to help facilitate their preparedness.
Presentment of Motion: Parties may bring numerous motions throughout the pendency of the case (exclusive possession of the marital home; requesting to set a parenting schedule; for temporary support etc.). On the initial presentment day, the attorney or pro se litigant will appear in court, tell the Judge what has been filed, give the other party time to respond and either set a hearing date on the motion or a briefing schedule if other work needs to be done before a hearing can be held.
Emergency Motion: Either party may bring an emergency motion with minimal notice to the court or the other side if there are extenuating circumstances. These types of motions are brought and are requesting the Judge to make an immediate ruling based on the facts that are presented to him/her that day. The Judge may make a ruling that day or may request further information and set it on the status call.
Hearing: A hearing is like a mini-trial. Each party will present facts to the Judge on a particular issue, testimony may be given and the Judge will make a ruling on a particular issue that is pending.
Pre-trial: A pre-trial conference is a settlement meeting that the lawyers have with the Judge. The first pre-trial usually occurs before the case is set for trial, and shortly after the discovery is completed, or is close to completion. Additional pre-trial meetings with the Judge often take place just before or during the actual trial. The lawyers get to present their clients’ version of the facts and settlement positions to the judge. They accomplish this quickly and efficiently because they can speak freely and do not have to deal with the technical or evidentiary distractions that are present during a trial. Neither lawyer can mislead the judge because the other lawyer insurance that the judge hears only accurate portrayal of the facts and of all other pertinent factors. The Judge receives the main facts of the case and indicates how he or she would likely rule if the identical facts were established at trial. This indication serves as the court’s recommendation and guide as to how the court believes the parties should settle their issues. The parties are not required to accept the court’s recommendation and are free to proceed to trial.
Trial: If the parties cannot come to an agreement this will be the last step in a divorce case. Each side will put on all facts of their case, exhibits, witnesses and the Judge will make a final ruling on all issues in a divorce case (financials and custody are the two main topic areas)