What to Expect at Your Scheduling Hearing – Part 2
Ok, so now you’ve made it to the courtroom. What next?
After your case is called by the clerk, you will approach the appropriate table (either Plaintiff or Defendant) and wait for the Magistrate to address you. You will identify yourself for the record when prompted, by stating your name and confirming that you are the Plaintiff or Defendant, and then await the Magistrate’s instructions.
- The Magistrate will ask you questions to better understand the issues in dispute. Is this a divorce action? Divorce and custody? Custody only? Is there a need for pendente lite (a Latin term meaning "awaiting the litigation" or "pending the litigation" which applies to court orders which are in effect while a matter, such as a divorce, is pending. In divorce, a pendente lite order is often used to provide for the support of one party while the legal process moves ahead) relief to address temporary access or support issues? Post-divorce modification, enforcement, or contempt? All of these actions fall within the ambit of family law cases. Distinguishing one from another is key to ensuring that your case is scheduled appropriately.
- Once the issues in dispute are identified, the Magistrate will ask you questions about services. Are you interested in mediation on custody issues? Financial issues? Both? Are you willing to meet with a facilitator that morning to try to resolve portions of your case? (A facilitator is a volunteer family law attorney on-site the morning of the Scheduling Hearing to work with parties to try to resolve portions of their case by agreement in a cooperative setting. There is no cost for participating in facilitation – only your time. Typically, all parties and the facilitator are present in the same room for their discussions, so cases with allegations of domestic violence may not be appropriate for facilitation.) Do you need custody services such as a custody evaluation or an attorney for the child/ren? These are questions you may wish to discuss with an attorney before your Scheduling Hearing, so that you understand the relative pluses and minuses of each as they apply to your circumstances.
- If you agree to meet with a facilitator, the Scheduling Hearing will be paused while you attempt to resolve your case. Should resolution prove successful, you will return to the Magistrate to report the results. If the case is not resolved, you will return to the Magistrate to complete the Scheduling Hearing. Facilitation can take up to 1-2 hours of additional time, at your election.
- If you request custody mediation or a court custody evaluation, you must undergo an intake interview immediately after your Scheduling Hearing with Family Division Services. The interview process can take up to 1 hour. Please plan accordingly if you believe your case may require a custody evaluation.
- Finally, the Magistrate will identify potential dates for future hearings in your case. This is your chance to notify the Magistrate of any existing scheduling conflicts to ensure that all future hearings are scheduled conveniently for the parties and the court. Do not be shy. It is expected that you may not be available on all potential available dates.
- After you’ve selected dates, the Magistrate will thank you for coming and move on to another case. Do not leave yet. The courtroom clerk is already generating copies of a Scheduling Order for you. Do not leave until you’ve picked up your copies.
Go back to Part 1 of What to Expect at Your Scheduling Hearing.
Erik Arena is a Partner at Dragga, Hannon, Hessler & Wills, LLP with twelve years’ experience in family law and divorce matters.