Part 3: Advice from a Kalispell Divorce Attorney: What Happens at a Contested Hearing?Marybeth Sampsel
Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a series of entries regarding what occurs at Montana divorce or parenting trials and hearings. For more information, see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Today’s blog post focuses on the CONTESTED HEARING.
As I have mentioned in my previous posts, this series is geared specifically towards hearings and/or trials in Kalispell (Flathead County District Court). Each Judicial District is different and I encourage all litigants to learn the local rules of their Judicial District (which can be found on the Montana Courts website). I also strongly encourage litigants to visit the courthouse and sit in on a proceeding, particularly a similar case and with the same judge that is assigned to your case. You will learn far more by observing your judge and seeing how your local court runs than I can explain in a blog post!
The contested hearing is what people really think of when they imagine going to court. Basically a “mini trial,” the contested hearing is often several hours long and allows both parties the opportunity to present witness, present evidence, and give testimony about the circumstances of their case. In Montana family law cases, contested hearings are often seen for interim matters – i.e. matters that need to be determined at the outset of a case, long before a final trial takes place. You might have a contested hearing on an interim parenting plan, interim child support, interim maintenance and so on. Contested hearings are also common after the divorce or parenting case is finalized, when new issues arise. For example, a parenting plan that needs to be modified or child support modifications generally result in contested hearings.
In Kalispell family law cases, it is not uncommon to have a contested hearing last as little as one hour or as long as four hours. Some cases take less time, some take more. Our Judicial District is incredibly busy and the Court simply does not have the time or resources to give every case 4+ hours. I encourage unrepresented litigants to be prepared enough to present their side of the case in 30 minutes, keeping in mind that they may actually be allowed an hour or more. And be aware just because you are given more time, does not mean you HAVE to use it.
If a contested hearing has been scheduled in your case, chances are it will be scheduled at 9:00 a.m. WARNING: CHECK THE ORDER SETTING CONTESTED HEARING YOU RECEIVED FROM THE COURT! Do not rely on this blog post as a means of determining what time your hearing will take place. If you are unsure what time your hearing is scheduled for, call the court and find out. I repeat – do not rely on this post to determine what time your hearing will take place.
With that warning out of the way, often times in Kalispell District Court, contested hearings are scheduled for 9:00 a.m. When you get to court, you will notice that several other cases will likely be scheduled for 9:00 a.m. as well. Obviously, you cannot all present your cases to the judge at the same time. So, your judge might call the cases one by one (which will require you to hang out at the courthouse until it is your turn), or your judge might schedule the hearings throughout the day after taking “roll,” and determining how much time each case will need.
The most important thing to understand about scheduling, is that you MUST be at the courthouse at the time your hearing is set, even though your case may not be heard until later in the day. Also, if you are employed, plan to miss the entire day of work. Even though the Order setting your hearing says 9:00 a.m., you may not go in front of the judge until late afternoon.
In the following days/weeks, watch for additional posts on the contested hearing. I will be explaining what order things happen in (i.e. who goes first); what to bring with you to court; and what the court/judge expects from you.