You get a notice in the mail, it says something about a court hearing coming up. Do you have to appear at this hearing? You should probably assume, first of all, that any court hearing you receive notice of, you will be required to attend that hearing. Lawyers like to say, “only bad things happen when you miss a court hearing.” The next logical question then, is, what can you expect to happen at these court hearings?
Let’s start with an example. If you get served with divorce papers and that paperwork includes a motion hearing (a written request for the court to do something), so that’s a court hearing that someone requested to be heard before the court. This means usually something’s more urgent or at least, the person who made the request thinks it’s urgent or in need of timely attention. Resolving the dispute cannot wait two months, and in most counties, it will be heard by the court much sooner than that. So you might get served with divorce papers and there’s a motion in there for parenting time, or maybe a request to suspend your parenting time. It is then important to respond to that motion, and to attend the court hearing, because temporary decisions about when and how you will see your children is being decided by the court.
Let’s say your ex-wife/mother of your children has some issue with whatever’s going on and doesn’t want you seeing the kids, then she files something with the court called a “motion” and they schedule that for a hearing, you get that in the mail, you should assume you have to be there. Not showing up at a court hearing has definite consequences. First of all, you can’t just assume “well I’ll show up at the hearing and just tell them I need more time to get a lawyer.” The court’s not required to adjourn the hearing because you’re looking for a lawyer or want to get some advice, you’d want to do all that ahead of time, even if you can’t hire a lawyer for the hearing you’d want to at least get advice about it before the court hearing. The way the court looks at these things, if you don’t have an attorney, you’re expected to act as your own attorney and proceed with the court hearing. Depending on what the hearing is, you’re required to be there, there might be other things that you’re required to do ahead of time. For example: somebody serves you with notice of a court hearing and it’s a motion hearing, that means that you’re also required to file a response. So the motion request is they want child support, parenting time, whatever it is they’re asking the court to do, you’re then required to file a response so the court knows your side of the story.
In some counties, Oakland county for example, the day you file a divorce case they give you back the paperwork that you then serve the other person with. There are two court hearings right in that packet, an early intervention conference and a settlement conference. So there’s two different court hearings that have two different purposes, so yes, you need to plan on being at those. Those dates are subject to change because they’re generated by a computer, but you should assume the court date is going forward unless you hear otherwise from the court.
One trap people fall into is that they’ll say “well my wife told me I didn’t have to go to that,” but of course it’s not up to your wife to be able to do that for you. It’s a question of whether there’s a court hearing scheduled. You should assume that you have to go to it, and it’s not your wife’s call whether you have to be at a hearing. Court hearings are mandatory, that’s really the best way to look at it. They’re a few months out usually, but you want to be aware of them.
In a typical divorce case (especially when there’s children) there are three court appearances minimum, so you get these different steps along the way, and they’re all different, one’s a pre-trial, one’s an early intervention conference, one’s a settlement conference, one’s a first trial date, whatever it is they all have a different purpose so you got to know what you’re dealing with. You want to know if you’re going to a court hearing in person and it’s not going to be over Zoom or phone. Be prepared, know where you’re going ahead of time, you don’t want to find out the day of that you went to the wrong building and there’s two different places you could have gone and now you got to get over to the other one and now you’re late or maybe they proceed without you, so you want to be watching for that. You don’t want court hearings going on without you, bad things always happen when that occurs, you can’t count on the court or the judge saying “well we’ll give him more time, we’re not sure he was served,” they’re just there as a part of the court system.
So when you don’t appear in court, that’s not like some kind of shock to people. People miss court all the time and bad things happen when they do it, so you want to be aware of it. Make sure you show up in court, make sure you know what court hearings are coming up, what to expect, and where you’re going. It’s not overwhelming, but there’s certainly a step-by-step process to understanding it and dealing with it the right way.