The vast majority of family law cases are settled before trial. At the very least parties are usually able to come to an agreement on most of the issues. If you cannot agree on some or all of the issues, you are in a contested family law case. A contested family law case that makes it all the way to trial would go through the following court processes:
- The claimant starts the court action by filing a Notice of Family Claim at the courthouse.
- The claimant has someone else over 19 personally Serving a filed copy of the Notice of Family Claim on the respondent.
- The respondent files a Response to Family Claim (and possibly a Counterclaim) at the courthouse and serves it on the claimant.
- The claimant files and serves a Response to Counterclaim if applicable.
- The parties share information with each other (called Discovery) and exchange Financial Statements.
- The parties schedule and attend a Judicial Case Conference (JCC) to try to resolve all or some of the issues.
- If there are still issues outstanding after the JCC, a party may make an Application to the court, such as for interim support or exclusive possession of the family home and household goods. A judge may make an interim order.
- The parties may question each other through Examinations for Discovery to make sure everyone knows what evidence will go in front of the judge. The parties may also participate in settlement meetings.
- Any issues that the parties cannot agree on go before a judge at a trial. The judge makes a final order.
There could be additional steps if a party applies for interim orders (temporary orders) to deal with issues that cannot wait until trial such as protecting property or sorting out care for the children. See Chambers Applications for more.
Varying Orders or Agreements
In family law actions, some things are never truly ‘final’. Orders and agreements regarding child support may be changed if the parties’ incomes change. Parenting arrangement order may be changed when family dynamics and the needs of the child change. The court always has the authority to change a previous decision if the change is in the best interests of the children. The parties can agree to change the order or one party can apply to court to argue why the order should be changed. Failing to reach agreement can result in parties and their children being dragged in and out of court for years.