Different Types of Divorce Court Hearings in California
The most common type of hearings in California Family court is related to child support, spousal support, or child custody. These hearings are scheduled after one spouse files a "Request for Order." Depending on the complexity (or contention) of your case, the jurisdiction you live in and the speed your case is progressing, there are several other court appearances you may have to participate in. Review this resource to understand what types of hearings you may need to attend.
Case Resolution Conference or Status Conference
If your case doesn't seem to be progressing, the judge assigned to the case may require you and your spouse to come to court and explain where you are at with efforts to finalize your divorce. Prior to court, you must prepare and file a form. No orders for support, custody, visitation, and property division are made at these hearings, nor will the judge usually hear any arguments or testimony regarding these issues. These conferences are only used to discuss the status of the case and whether or not the matter needs to proceed to a settlement conference, evidentiary hearing or if an agreement is in the works. The court appearance usually only lasts 5-15 minutes.
Quick Tip: Usually the court sends you notice indicating what form you need to complete if the court appearance is called a "Status Conference" or "Case Resolution Conference." If not, check the county court website to see if there is a local form to complete before you go to court. For example, Alameda, San Mateo, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties all have local forms.
Temporary Orders ("Request for Orders")
The divorce process can be long – there are lots of forms and it could take some time for you to negotiate (or litigate) the issues of your divorce (property and debt division, spousal support, attorney fees, child custody, and child support). You or your spouse may file a "Request for Order" (RFO) (sometimes referred to as "motions") at any time if you need some temporary relief. Big "permanent" issues are not "heard" at an RFO hearing.
Some of the issues that can be resolved at these hearings are include temporary legal and physical custody, parenting plan, control of property, access to money, child or spousal support, and request for fees or costs. RFOs can also be used to "compel' discovery responses or disclosures when your spouse refuses to be transparent with finances.
Depending on how far apart your spouse and you are at the RFO, you may be sent out for court-ordered mediation (especially if the issues involve child custody or visitation), or an evidentiary hearing will be set so that each side can prove their position. Most courts usually like to limit these hearings to 20 to 40 minutes as there will be a lot of other cases on that same day for the same type of hearing.
Quick Tip: If you are served with an RFO, you must file a Response (even if you plan to attend the court hearing).
Temporary orders remain in place until you and your spouse come to an agreement and/or the court makes more final or in some cases, permanent orders.
RFOs can also be filed to enforce or modify existing orders, determine who will occupy the family home throughout the divorce, how you and your spouse will communicate (if violence or harassment is at issue), who will use vehicles or other property and prevent one spouse from selling or encumbering community or separate property.
We provide many resources that offer helpful information and direction for all aspects of divorce. Some of our favorites include: preparing for your court hearing, tips for court-ordered child custody mediation, child support tips, tips for writing a persuasive declaration (the form you submit in support of your position) and tips for representing yourself in court.
Sometimes you can request or the court will require you to attend a Settlement Conference (SC). When you've got an unreasonable spouse and/or the two of you are not in mediation, a Settlement Conference can be super helpful for sorting out all of the issues in the divorce that remain contested. It gives you the opportunity to "pitch' your position to a judge or court mediator and get some feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
This hearing is not usually done in open court, a lot of counties keep this more private and confidential. Often times it ends with a settlement on some or all of the issues! You should plan on your settlement conference lasting at least half a day, and is scheduled for either the morning or afternoon session.
Prior to your SC, you will need to prepare a form that alerts your spouse and your judge what your position is on each contested issue. We can also help you strategize and prepare this document. If your divorce feels "stuck' check out this article.
Sometimes referred to as a trial, this is most likely your final hearing but can sometimes take place over several days. If you and your spouse cannot agree on outstanding issues, you will likely need an evidentiary hearing to present evidence (think: documents, photographs, social media postings, job searches, etc) and testimony from you, your spouse and any witnesses that either of you bring. These can range from an hour to several days/weeks.
You will want to make sure that your evidence and witness testimony is specific to the contested issues and not just being presented to make the other side look bad. The judge will hear testimony, look at the evidence, listen to witnesses, and make final decisions on all issues.
This is not a hearing you will want to start preparing for the day before court. This is the most serious and involved of all of the family law hearings and you will need to treat it as such. Most, if not all, of the orders that come out of an evidentiary hearing are final and not able to be modified after the hearing.
To help you prepare and/or determine if you need an attorney to represent you at trial, please schedule your free 15-minute call with us.