Family law motions have to be presented on mandatory pattern forms. Prior to trial, most motions will be temporary motions that address specific issues (i.e., visitation, child support). Most counties have courthouse facilitators who can assist unrepresented people by making sure paperwork is completely filled out, filed properly and the case is set on the correct docket. They can't give legal advice. You must consult your local court rules (and the county's local special proceedings rules) to make sure you set your motion far enough out so that the other party has enough notice. In most instances, the other party is entitled to 14 days' notice. You can set your motion out farther. If you can mail notice to the other party, add 3 days to the notice period. Many courts have page limits on motions. Courts may or may not enforce them. Don't count on the court not enforcing it. Try to stay as close as possible to the page limit.
Never file anything without keeping copies. Make a copy for you, a copy for each party in the case (the other parent, the GAL, etc) and one extra copy. Court files are going digital. Many counties require that you file a "bench copy" or "working copy" of the motion for the court to use (because your original may not be in the file from having been digitally scanned yet). Some courts will not hear your case if no working copy was filed. When you file your original at the court clerk's office, make sure your copies are stamped. Ask the clerks for help if necessary--they're usually pretty nice. Also ask to make sure you get your working copy to the correct location (if a different office, stamp your copies there too). Having stamped copies is the only way you can prove you've done things correctly. Make sure the copy going to the other parties is clearly stamped. If you end up continuing your case, make sure you have working copies for the new court date.
Confirm Your Hearing
How to confirm hearings varies across the state. In some counties you must schedule a hearing by computer. You can then confirm your hearing online at the same time. In other counties, you have to confirm your hearing only within so many days of the hearing and you have only a small window of time to do it. Ask the courthouse facilitator or the clerk's office exactly how to confirm. Take notes if you have to. If you fail to confirm a hearing, it will be stricken and you will not be notified of that ahead of time. You don't want to show up for a hearing only to find out you have to start all over again setting a hearing.
Once your motion is filed and served on the other parties, there are deadlines for responses. Again, your local rules will spell out very clearly and explicitly when responses to your motion are due. In some counties, you are allowed to do a reply to the response (it's called "strict reply"). You can't raise new issues, but you can respond to the other party's statements. If you are able to do so, there are strict deadlines for those filings. You miss the deadline, your strict reply won't be read. Deadlines for responses, etc will be specifically mentioned in the court rules. But generally under the court rules, if the deadline for a filing falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a legal holiday (in which the courthouse is closed for business) the deadline then becomes the next business day.
If You Are Unhappy With the Outcome
If your hearing doesn't turn out like you wanted, you can do 2 things. First, you can file a motion for reconsideration. You have 30 days to do it and you can add more information or add a more detailed legal argument. The downside is that you have to go back in front of the same court commissioner (or judge) who made the ruling you didn't like. Second, if you were in front of a court commissioner, you can file a motion for revision. This has to be done within 10 calendar days (just filing it, not the hearing itself). Your assigned trial judge will hear the motion. You cannot add any materials to the the motion for revision, the judge uses exactly what the commissioner had available. Plus, you have to provide a transcript of the commissioner's hearing (which can get spendy). Judges give a lot of latitude to the commissioners and most family law decisions are discretionary. If you lose either motion, you may have to pay attorney's fees (if there's a lawyer involved).
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