What is an RFO in Family Court?
Family court handles a wide variety of legal matters involving family relationships, such as divorce, child custody and support, and domestic violence. RFO stands for “Request for Order” which is a formal request filed with the court asking for a specific court order. RFOs are commonly used in family court to help resolve disagreements between parties or establish parameters while a case proceeds.
When Are RFOs Used in Family Court?
There are many situations when an RFO may be filed in family court:
Temporary Custody and Visitation
If parents separate, one parent can request temporary custody and visitation rights regarding the children via an RFO while the divorce is pending. The court will consider factors like keeping children in their usual home and school when granting temporary orders.
A parent can file an RFO to request temporary child support from the other parent to help pay for the child’s expenses during separation or divorce proceedings. The court can order amounts based on state guidelines and parents’ incomes and assets.
An RFO can request temporary spousal support or alimony during divorce. The court examines factors like length of marriage, incomes, and future earning capacity when deciding temporary spousal support orders.
Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
RFOs are commonly used to request restraining orders against an abusive spouse or partner in domestic violence situations. The orders can include stay-away provisions, custody of children, financial support, and more.
Modifying Existing Orders
Once the court has issued final orders in a family law case, either party can file an RFO down the road to request modifications if circumstances change. For instance, child support could be increased/decreased based on changes in parenting time or incomes.
What Information Does an RFO Include?
An RFO provides detailed information so the court understands the orders being requested and the facts justifying them. Common components include:
The RFO states the exact court orders being requested, like child custody, visitation schedule, child support amounts, domestic violence protections, etc.
Statement of Facts
A statement of facts explains important background information on the parties’ situation, children, relationship history, and facts supporting the requested orders.
The party filing the RFO must include a signed declaration made under penalty of perjury that the factual information included is true and correct.
Relevant evidence and documents can be attached as exhibits, including financial statements, police reports, correspondence, school/medical records, etc.
A draft of the proposed court orders is usually included for the judge to review and sign if approved.
The RFO Process Step-By-Step
Filing and obtaining court orders through an RFO involves precise procedures:
Step 1: Complete the RFO Packet
The party seeking orders must complete a standardized RFO packet available from the court clerk. This includes forms for the request, facts, declaration, proposed orders, and financial information.
Step 2: File with Court
File the original RFO packet plus copies for serving the other party with the court clerk, and pay required filing fees. The court clerk will set a hearing date.
Step 3: Serve the Other Party
You must arrange for formal service of the RFO packet on the opposing party within certain time limits before the hearing. This is frequently done using a process server.
Step 4: File Proof of Service
The person serving the RFO must complete and file a Proof of Service form showing when and how the other party was served.
Step 5: Opposition Papers (Optional)
The opposing party can file responses and their own declaration contesting the orders requested, which you then get a copy of.
Step 6: Court Hearing
Appear at the hearing and be prepared to argue why the orders should be granted. Bring witnesses if needed. The judge will make final orders at the hearing or take it under consideration.
Step 7: Formalize Orders
If approved, the party who sought the orders must complete final written court orders for the judge’s signature and get them entered into the court record.
Circumstances When an RFO May Not be Appropriate
While RFOs are routinely used in family court, there are some instances when an RFO may not be the right procedural tool:
- Minor disagreements that should be worked out cooperatively first
- Issues that must be decided at trial, not through a motion process
- Requests that are extremely unreasonable or unlikely to be granted
- When other actions like mediation would be more appropriate
- If domestic violence circumstances require emergency orders
Parties should consult an attorney to discuss the best approach for their particular situation. RFOs require proper procedure and legal basis to be effective.
Benefits of Seeking Orders via RFO
Obtaining court orders through the RFO process can provide important benefits in family law matters:
- Establishes temporary orders quickly while case proceeds
- Starts child/spousal support sooner
- Creates structure and clarity around issues like custody
- Allows court monitoring of high-conflict situations
- Can provide urgently needed domestic violence protections
- Begins the discovery process and structures case progression
- Can influence final outcome of trial
- Avoids self-help measures that could be illegal/improper
With the appropriate grounds and need, filing an RFO enables the court to step in and make orders in the best interests of the parties and children. Consulting an attorney helps navigate the RFO process effectively.
Potential Risks or Downsides of RFOs
While RFOs serve an important purpose, there are some potential risks or downsides to think through:
- Adds complexity, time, and legal costs if used excessively
- Can increase acrimony between parties if used inappropriately
- May not get expected results depending on legal merits
- Requires both parties’ participation in the process
- Needs strong factual/legal basis to justify orders
- Can be hard to enforce if other party doesn’t cooperate
- May not be necessary if final hearing is coming soon
Weighing the need against potential downsides is important when considering filing an RFO. An attorney can provide guidance on when an RFO is truly appropriate. Be realistic on possible outcomes based on the circumstances.
Alternatives to Resolving Issues Without an RFO
In some instances, there may be alternatives to resolve a dispute without having to file an RFO:
- Negotiation – Parties or attorneys directly negotiate a compromise.
- Mediation – Using a neutral mediator can help parties communicate and find agreement.
- Temporary agreements – Entering into temporary stipulations can be an option while awaiting trial.
- Wait for trial – Less urgent issues may simply wait final resolution at trial.
- Counseling/classes – Seeking outside help for issues like co-parenting disagreements.
- Evaluations – Appointing an evaluator to provide recommendations to the court.
- Local resources – Community programs/services that address needs.
Weighing alternatives against the benefits of a court order can help choose the best path forward in a particular situation. Legal advice is key.
Questions to Ask When Considering Filing an RFO
- Does my situation truly require court intervention at this time?
- Have I gathered sufficient facts/evidence to support the requested orders?
- Are the orders I’m requesting reasonable and permitted by law?
- What is the likelihood my requests will be granted by the court?
- Is there a less adversarial way to address this issue like negotiation or mediation?
- What are the downsides and risks if I proceed with a request for order?
- Will it ultimately save time, costs, and conflict to wait for trial?
- Do the benefits I hope to gain outweigh potential risks and delays?
- Have I consulted an attorney to understand our case status and strategic legal options?
Carefully weighing these key questions will help determine if moving forward with an RFO is the right course of action.
Requests for Orders provide an important procedural tool in family court cases to help parties obtain needed temporary orders related to custody, support, domestic violence protection, and other critical issues. RFOs allow courts to intervene and make orders that serve the best interest of all involved during the pendency of a case. But filing an RFO also requires care and precision, along with understanding possible downsides and risks. Consulting an attorney is vital to determine if requesting court orders through an RFO aligns with the goals and progression of your particular legal matter. With wise counsel, RFOs can be used effectively to put smart court orders in place while permanent orders are ultimately sought.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the first step to file an RFO?
The first step is to complete the standardized RFO packet of forms obtained from the court clerk’s office. This includes the request for orders, declaration of facts, and other supporting documents.
How quickly can you get a hearing date after filing an RFO?
The court clerk will provide an available hearing date and time, generally within 2-6 weeks after the RFO is filed. Some courts have emergency RFO procedures for urgent situations like domestic violence.
Can an RFO be filed without a divorce or custody case pending?
In limited instances RFOs can be filed independently, but they are most commonly filed as motions within existing family law cases. Consulting an attorney on proper procedure is wise.
What happens if the other party doesn’t respond to an RFO?
If served properly, the court hearing will still proceed even if the other party does not file any opposition or appear at the hearing. But lack of response can impact outcome.
Who should you contact with questions about an RFO?
You should consult an experienced family law attorney for legal advice and to understand your options. Court clerks can assist with procedural questions only, not legal matters.