Well, it depends.
Unfortunately, I utter this phrase more than I would like. But in my line of work, it comes with the territory because, especially in the area of family law, each case is fact-driven and presents unique issues. In large part, however, what happens after a temporary hearing in Family Court depends on the client and the opposing party. And, to take a step back, I think it is fair to say that what happens PRIOR to a temporary hearing in Family Court is a good indicator of what will happen AFTER a temporary hearing in Family Court.
For example, if the parties are able to reach an agreement prior to the temporary hearing, odds are that the life of the case after the temporary hearing will be more pleasant. On the other hand, to state the obvious again, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement prior to the temporary hearing, odds are the life of the case after the temporary hearing will be more contentious and stressful.
Often, though, parties do not have the time to reach an agreement prior to the temporary hearing, and it is then, post-temporary hearing, that the the parties delve into the key issues of the case. The information gathered leading up to the temporary hearing plays a pivotal role in laying the foundation of the case and helps the party’s attorney determine the bones of contention between the parties.
After the temporary hearing, the Temporary Order is filed and its terms rule the parties’ behavior during the pendency of the litigation. In the meantime, the process of discovery begins, wherein the parties are able, by formal requests filed with the court, to seek information from the other party that is relevant to the case. For example, through the process of discovery, a party may request of the other party documents regarding bank accounts or retirement accounts. The information gathered through discovery, as well as the gathering of information by the party and his/her attorney and staff, help provide the groundwork for the drafting of a proposed settlement agreement.
If there is no remote possibility of reaching an agreement because of the parties’ highly contentious positions and complete lack of desire to bend on any issues, the case is scheduled for mandatory mediation. If the parties are able to reach a complete and full agreement beforehand, mandatory mediation is an unnecessary step in the journey and the parties head straight to the final hearing.
At the final hearing, the parties’ agreement is presented to the Family Court Judge, who reviews the agreement and determines whether she/he approves the terms of the agreement, asks questions of the parties regarding their understanding of the agreement, and ensures that the circumstances in which the agreement was reached were fair to both parties.
If the agreement is approved by the judge, it is made an order of the court, along with the issuance of a final order. For example, in a divorce matter, the final divorce decree is issued at the final hearing, but only after the moving party presents testimony regarding the ground for divorce, and the judge rules on whether the burden of proof has been met regarding the ground.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement prior to or after mandatory mediation, the parties ready themselves for trial. Prior to trial, the parties and their attorneys prepare, prepare, prepare to gather information to present at trial. Often, depositions are taken of the parties and witnesses, and the parties continue to gather evidence and exhibits to help prove the grounds for divorce or to help establish their case for alimony, equitable distribution of the marital estate, division of the assets and debts, the valuation of businesses, and the best interests of the child regarding custody. At trial, the Family Court Judge is the decider of fact and rules on all issues presented by the parties.
It’s a long, winding and, often, diverging road to a final hearing. And, for better or worse, the course of the journey is primarily in the hands of the parties.