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Before the Trial

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How do I ask the court to take specific actions while my case is pending?

You can ask the judge to take some kind of action while your case is ongoing by filing or “making” a motion. A motion is a request that the judge grant some kind of relief related to your court case. There are a few different ways that you can make a motion.

  • Oral motion - You can make a motion verbally (orally) while in court. This can be at the initial appearance, at a status appearance, or during a hearing. Usually, you can use an oral motion when the request is not complicated, or if it is an urgent request that you are hoping the judge will grant that day. When you make an oral motion, the other party or his/her attorney can respond by arguing against the motion. The judge will either make a decision during court, hold off on making a decision to consider it further, or the judge might ask you to put the motion into writing.
  • Written motion – Each state and jurisdiction may have its own process for filing written motions. To make a motion in writing, you may need several different documents. Your court may have a specific form that needs to be filed for a motion, and you will usually also submit supporting documents like an affidavit in support of the motion, a memorandum of law (if necessary), and exhibits that would be admissible at a hearing. If you have an attorney who is representing you, the motion that s/he files on your behalf would also include an affirmation from your attorney. Some states also require you to file a notice of motion that outlines what you are asking for and sets a time for you to appear in court to present (argue) your motion to the judge. In some situations, you might also make a motion by writing a letter to the judge that explains what you are asking for, and why. Any time you send anything in writing to the judge you must also send a copy to the other party or his/her attorney. The other party would then have a chance to respond.
  • Emergency motions – Different jurisdictions will have different ways for a person to file for an emergency order from a judge. This might be called an emergency motion, an order to show cause, a show cause motion, or something else. Generally, a judge will only grant emergency relief if there is some chance that serious harm might result if the temporary relief is not granted. The judge might grant an emergency order, but then schedule a court appearance within a few days. After the appearance, the judge can decide whether or not to grant the requested relief on a more permanent basis.