Will I have to talk?: An Explanation of Family Law Hearings

One of the questions that I am most frequently asked by clients about court hearings is, “Will I have to talk?” The answer to that question depends on the kind of hearing that is scheduled. This article is designed to give clients an overview of the types of hearings that are scheduled in family law cases, and what the client can expect to occur at those hearings.

The type of hearing that occurs most often in Sedgwick County is the stand-up motion docket. This docket occurs three times each week, with hundreds of cases scheduled on each docket. At this hearing, the Presiding Judge calls the case names and the attorneys announce the cases either for “Conference” or “Hearing.” If the case is for “Conference,” the attorneys will be attempting to negotiate an agreement. The Court requires that a conference be attempted before the case is announced for hearing. The conference may occur through discussing the case after the docket is called, or through speaking by email or phone prior to the hearing. If negotiations do not result in an agreement, the case is assigned to one of the four family law judges for hearing.

At a motion docket hearing, the attorneys will each present a “proffer” of evidence by making an oral argument to the Court regarding the orders that the client is requesting and what they believe the evidence will prove at trial.  The Judge may review limited evidence, but generally will not review an extensive amount of information or hear testimony from the parties or witnesses. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge will issue a ruling. The orders issued at a motion docket are generally temporary in nature. The case is then referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution or scheduled for a future hearing to address permanent orders. Motion hearings typically last thirty minutes to one hour, but clients should plan on being present for several hours. Due to the number of cases that are scheduled on the motion docket, it is sometimes necessary to wait for hours for your case to be called for hearing. Attorneys who handle a large number of family law cases may have more than one hearing scheduled on the motion docket, so your attorney may be negotiating other cases or participating in hearings in other courtrooms while waiting for your case to be called for hearing.

If a case is not settled by agreement following the motion docket or Alternative Dispute Resolution, a Pretrial Conference will be scheduled. A Pretrial Conference is a scheduling conference that occurs between the attorneys and the judge’s aide. At the Pretrial Conference, the attorneys will file a Pretrial Conference Order, which lists the witnesses and exhibits that they may present at trial and the contentions and arguments that they will make at trial. During the Pretrial Conference, the Judge’s aide schedules the next two hearings: the Mandatory Settlement Conference and the Evidentiary Hearing.

The Court requires a Mandatory Settlement Conference for the parties to make a final attempt at negotiating an agreement before proceeding to trial. This is an informal hearing that occurs between the parties and their attorneys in conference rooms at the courthouse, rather than a hearing with the Judge in the courtroom. If the parties are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement during this conference, the case will proceed to Evidentiary Hearing (Trial).

At the Evidentiary Hearing, evidence is presented and the parties and witnesses testify under oath. Family law hearings are heard by a Judge, rather than a jury, and typically last one to three days.

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