How to Ask for a Continuance in Family Court
A continuance is a request to postpone or reschedule a court hearing or trial to a later date. In family court, you may need to ask for a continuance for a variety of reasons such as schedule conflicts, inadequate preparation time, or the unavailability of witnesses. Requesting a continuance is a common occurrence, but you need to follow the proper procedures and meet the required legal standards for the court to approve it. This guide will explain the key steps involved in asking for a continuance in family court.
There are several common reasons you may need to request a continuance in a family court case. For example:
- You need more time to prepare. You may recently retained a new attorney or need to conduct further discovery. The court will want to ensure both sides have adequate time to build their case.
- There is a schedule conflict. You or your attorney may have longstanding plans or work obligations that overlap with the court date. Illness or family emergencies can also interfere with your availability.
- A witness is unavailable. A key witness may be unable to testify on the scheduled date, severely impacting your case.
- You are attempting settlement. If both parties are actively engaged in negotiations and believe a settlement is imminent, a continuance allows more time for that without going to trial.
- You need to hire an attorney. Receiving a continuance gives you time to properly retain counsel to represent you in the case.
- There are outstanding documents. If you are waiting for critical records, reports or documents, a continuance allows you time to obtain them.
The court will consider these factors in determining if there are reasonable grounds to delay the proceedings. With proper preparation, you can make a compelling argument.
Preparing Your Request
Before submitting your request for a continuance, there are some key elements to keep in mind regarding the timing, required documentation, and process. This will optimize your chances of having your motion granted.
- Request as early as possible – Don’t wait until the last minute. The court calendar fills up quickly, so give them time to reschedule.
- Note any timing requirements – Some courts require motions a certain number of days before the hearing. Missing a deadline can result in automatic denial.
- Be mindful of objections – The other party may object if continuances have been granted before or it causes them hardship. File promptly to allow time to settle disputes.
- Written motion – A verbal request may not be sufficient. You need a formal written motion stating your reasons and proposed new date.
- Documentation of reasons – Include any documentation that supports your grounds for continuance, like proof of conflicting events, doctor notes, etc.
- Proposed order – Prepare a proposed order granting the continuance for the judge to sign. Include your suggested new court date.
- Agreement of parties – A stipulated request, agreed to by both parties, has a higher chance of approval. The court prefers mutually convenient new dates.
- Joint motion – If the other party agrees to the continuance, you can file a joint motion with both signatures. This carries more weight.
- Coordinate schedules – Confer with the other party to find new agreeable dates before submitting your request.
Ex Parte Requests
- Without other party – You can request a continuance ex parte, meaning without the consent or presence of the other party. But standards are higher.
- Show diligence – If the other party won’t stipulate, demonstrate your diligent efforts to get their agreement and why ex parte request is necessary.
- Provide immediate notice – Give written notice to other parties immediately after filing an ex parte motion.
Writing Your Motion
The written motion is your formal request for the court to postpone the proceedings. This is a crucial document that must follow the proper format and legal standards. Be sure your motion includes:
Format and Required Details
- Case caption – Name of parties, case number, judicial district
- Title – “Motion for Continuance of [Hearing Type]”
- Background facts – Brief overview of case proceedings.
- Relief requested – Exactly what you are asking the court to do.
- Legal grounds – The laws, regulations or rules supporting your request.
- Statement of reasons – Detailed explanation of why a continuance is necessary.
- Efforts to settle – State if you attempted to resolve issue with other party.
- Proposed new date – Suggest alternative dates and times for rescheduling.
- Signature and date
State the Relief Requested
- Clearly specify the current hearing or trial date you want continued.
- Request a new proposed date or time frame, allowing flexibility.
- If applicable, state that you want the deadlines for discovery or filings extended accordingly.
Provide Legal Grounds
- Cite relevant laws, court rules, regulations or case law that allow the court to grant your request.
- For example, cite rules about minimum notice periods or provisions allowing motions for continuance.
- This demonstrates your request is legally permissible.
Note Efforts to Settle
- Describe attempts to confer with the other party and their response.
- If it is a joint motion, state that both parties agree to the continuance.
- If ex parte, detail your diligent efforts to notify the other party and obtain agreement.
Offer Proposed Dates
- Provide at least 3 alternative dates and times that work for you.
- Ideally, discuss options with the other party first and provide dates you both prefer.
- This makes it easier for the court to reschedule.
Filing Your Motion
Once your motion is completed, you need to properly file it with the court and provide notice to all parties involved. Be sure to follow all the required steps:
Submit to Clerk’s Office
- Make the required number of copies of the motion. This varies by court.
- File the original motion with the clerk’s office by mail or in person.
- Pay any applicable filing fees. The clerk will confirm the new case number if assigned.
Notify Other Parties
- Send copies of the motion to the other party’s attorney or directly if they are self-represented.
- Make sure notice meets jurisdictional rules for timeliness and method of service.
Attend Hearing if Needed
- In some cases, a hearing may be required before the judge rules.
- Bring copies of your motion and supporting documents to the hearing.
- Present your reasons for continuance request and answer any questions.
During the Hearing
If the court requires a hearing on the motion for continuance, follow these tips to make a positive impression:
Arrive Early and Dress Professionally
- Arrive at least 30 minutes early to allow time for security screening.
- Dress professionally to demonstrate respect – suits for men, business attire for women.
- behaved and avoid confrontation with the other party.
Be Prepared to Explain Your Reasons
- Be ready to restate the grounds in your motion and provide any supporting details.
- If circumstances have changed, explain politely.
- Bring any documentation that supports your reasons.
- If the other party objects, respond calmly and focus on the legal standards.
Respond to Questions from Judge
- Answer all questions from the judge honestly and directly. Avoid rambling.
- Admit honestly if the judge asks a question you cannot legally justify.
- Be respectful. Don’t interrupt the judge.
After the Hearing
Once the hearing is completed, there are still some important steps, regardless of the outcome:
Receive Ruling from Court
- The judge may issue an immediate verbal ruling at the hearing.
- More commonly, the written ruling is provided by mail within a few days or weeks after the hearing.
- Review the order carefully to see if your request was granted or denied.
Get New Court Date if Granted
- If granted, the order should include the new court date and time.
- Calendar this immediately and notify witnesses.
- Coordinate schedules for re-serving any motions within new deadlines.
Consider Next Steps if Denied
- If denied, think carefully before filing another request or appeal.
- Instead, focus efforts on case preparation within existing schedule.
- Be prepared to explain denial to any witnesses whose scheduling is impacted.
Strategies to Improve Your Chance of Success
Asking for a continuance does not guarantee it will be granted. Use these strategies to address the court’s concerns and demonstrate good reason for delay:
- Courts frown on last minute requests. File the motion as soon as need arises.
- This shows organization, allows time to settle disputes, and facilitates rescheduling.
Offer Alternative Dates
- Providing several alternative dates makes it easier for court to reschedule.
- Confer with opponent first to provide dates you both find amenable.
Demonstrate Good Faith
- Show your willingness to compromise and work with the other party.
- If you’ve agreed to accommodations in return, note this.
Highlight Hardship Without Continuance
- Emphasize how denying your request would pose undue hardship or hurt your case.
- For example, explain key witnesses’ unavailability or lost preparation time.
Requesting a continuance for your family court hearing can be intimidating but following proper procedures helps ensure the court considers it fairly. Be proactive in filing early, offer flexibility in proposed dates, and demonstrate good faith efforts to settle whenever possible. With a well-prepared and diligently researched motion, you can persuasively explain why a continuance is justified in your particular circumstances. Understand that they are not guaranteed to be granted but using respectful persistence in presenting your request and fulfilling all requirements gives you the best chance of success. With the extra time a granted continuance provides, you can move forward in your court case with renewed confidence and focus.
What is the difference between a stipulated continuance vs. opposed/contested?
A stipulated continuance is agreed to by both parties while an opposed/contested continuance is objected to by one or both parties. Courts are much more likely to grant stipulated requests.
Can an oral request be made for a continuance?
Most courts require a written motion and will not consider an oral request alone. However, some may allow a verbal request in the case of a true emergency.
Is a phone hearing required to request a continuance?
Many courts allow motions for continuances to be filed without a hearing. But some jurisdictions do require either an in-person or phone hearing before the judge will rule on the request.
What happens if I don’t show up to court on the original date?
Simply not appearing will likely result in you losing by default. You must properly request a continuance and receive approval before missing the court date to avoid negative consequences.
Can I ask for a continuance on the day of my hearing?
Requests on the actual hearing date are usually denied unless there is an unexpected emergency. Motions must be filed and approved in advance, so last minute requests are disfavored.