What is the process of a family law case?
When facing a legal issue related to family law, it's important to understand what to expect before and during the family court process. If your legal issue cannot be settled during negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law proceedings, your case will be heard in family court. Family courts strive to find fair solutions that make family units more stable.
What types of cases are resolved in family court?
Family court helps resolve all issues that fall under the category of family law. These include cases stemming from the following topics:
- Divorce settlements
- Adoption and foster care placement
- Domestic violence
- Child support payment
- Child custody
- Other marital disputes
Reaching an agreement outside of court
Legal counsel is not required for mediation or negotiation proceedings, although it is strongly advised. During these proceedings, family law attorneys can
- Inform clients of their legal rights and options.
- Help them negotiate and draft agreements.
- Make sure the agreement is executed and likely to be approved by a family court.
Negotiation describes any communication between the two parties that attempts to resolve the dispute before it goes to court.
Mediation is a single meeting under the supervision of a neutral third-party. Unlike in a court room setting, this third-party will not make a ruling on the case.
Any decision that you reach during mediation or negotiation is preferable. In court, a judge may reach a decision that you feel is unfair. If negotiation or mediation is successful, an agreement is drafted and sent to the family court. After a hearing, the judge will approve the agreement if it meets the following criteria:
- It is fair to all parties.
- Both parties entered it voluntarily.
- It was made with full financial disclosure from both parties.
If the judge is satisfied, the agreement will be approved and made into a court order.If a settlement cannot be reached during negotiation or mediation proceedings, the case will go to trial.
Receiving a temporary order
After failed negotiation or mediation, a summons and complaint should be filed with the court. In addition, a motion for temporary relief may also be filed. This motion asks the court to make a temporary decision on one issue, before the official court date. Motions for temporary relief may concern the following:
- Child custody
- Child support and visitation
- Payment of marital debt or temporary attorney fees
- Possession of marital assets
The motion for temporary relief case will be heard at a temporary hearing. At this hearing, the court relies on sworn witness statements rather than live testimony to make its ruling. In addition, each party or their counsel gets time to argue their case. The court then issues a temporary order to be granted until the trial date.
Family court proceedings
If a solution cannot be reached outside of court, one party usually files a summons and complaint explaining their requests. This is served to the opposing party to begin litigation proceedings.
After an action is filed, the case enters the discovery process. At this time, each party can request information and documentation from the other to prepare their case. These processes are not available for divorce proceedings, which always progress to court. Discovery usually features the following:
- Disclosure. Parties request items from one another.
- Interrogatories. Parties send a list of questions to the opposite sides.
- Admissions of fact. Parties send a list of facts for the opposite sides to admit or deny.
- Request for production. Parties ask for useful documents such as bank statements.
- Depositions. Sworn testimony is taken from opposing parties and witness.
After discovery, both parties may attempt to find a resolution out of court through mediation or negotiation. If an out-of-court settlement is not reached, the family law case will go to trial.
Once a family law matter goes to trial, both parties get the chance to plead their case in front of a judge. Each party can call witnesses to testify for them, who are typically cross-examined by the opposing counsel. Admissible documents and records are also submitted to the court as evidence. After hearing both sides, the judge will deliver their verdict. This verdict is legally enforceable, and should be accepted by all parties.
Appealing a court's decision
If one party is not satisfied by the verdict, they can appeal the case and take it to a higher court, where the process begins again. However, appeals are difficult to win, and could end up wasting your time and money.
No matter what family law issue you're facing, an experienced family lawyer can help you face the legal process with confidence.