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Before the Trial

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What can I expect at the first court appearance?

If you are seeking a restraining order or another type of emergency relief, such as emergency custody, then the first appearance might be ex parte, meaning you will see the judge but the defendant will not be there. Usually, the judge will review the petition you have filed, ask any questions he or she thinks are important, and decide whether to issue an ex parte temporary order.

If you are not seeking emergency relief, the first (initial) appearance is usually an opportunity for the judge to create a schedule for how the case will proceed, issue any temporary orders that are necessary, and see if the parties can agree on a final outcome. For custody cases, the first appearance gives the judge the opportunity to explain the court process to the parties and make any appropriate temporary (preliminary) decisions regarding custody and visitation while the action is pending. In some jurisdictions, the court rules require the parties to try to mediate and the court may even provide a mediator. If the parties agree on how they would like to see the case decided, then they may be able to resolve it during the first appearance, before mediation, by letting the judge know that they have reached an agreement. If the judge approves an agreement, then he or she may grant a final order based on those terms. If the parties do not agree, or if the judge does not approve a settlement, then future appearances may be scheduled. In some rare instances, a judge may dismiss a case at a first appearance if there is some obvious basis for dismissal – for example

  • if there is a problem with the petition;
  • if the same action is pending in another court; or
  • if the court does not have jurisdiction to hear this type of case.