If this is your first time in Family Court, you may be overwhelmed by all of the hearings scheduled in your matter. Whether you have a FRC, SFRC, RFO, MSC, TSC, or Trial, we’ll break down what you can expect at each so you can walk in prepared.
Family Resolution Conference
Contrary to what most people think, this hearing is not your “final divorce date.” The Family Resolution Conference (referred to as a “FRC”) is a hearing automatically scheduled by the Court whenever a new case is filed. If you file a Petition, you will get a Notice of Hearing from the Court with your FRC date. The FRC date is usually six months after the Petition is filed.
The FRC is a “check-in” hearing where the Court quickly asks about the case status. For example, if you filed the Petition but still have not yet served the other party, the Court will inquire why they have not yet been served. Or, if either party has failed to file and serve their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, the Court will set a specific deadline to do so.
The Court will continue the FRC to a later date depending on what needs to occur in your matter. Typically, the FRC is continued for 120 days, at which time you will be required to attend another FRC and update the Court again.
Once both parties confirm that they have filed their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and that all discovery is completed, the Court will schedule a Mandatory Settlement Conference (see below). Keep in mind that the Court will not set a MSC unless these two things have been confirmed.
The Court will continue the FRC hearings until a judgment has been filed with the Court and signed by the judge. Thus, it is likely that you will have several FRC hearings.
Attendance at the FRC hearings is mandatory, unless you have an attorney who is appearing on your behalf. Failure to attend a FRC can result in monetary sanctions. If you fail to attend several FRC hearings, the Court can strike your Petition or Response and proceed without you.
The FRC hearing is usually very quick; generally, they do not last longer than two to five minutes. However, that does not mean that you will be in and out of the courtroom that quickly. The Court schedules multiple FRC hearings on the same day. There could be as many as twenty FRC hearings scheduled at the same time. If so, the Court calls the FRC hearings in the order he/she prefers (usually calling the matters with attorneys first).
In preparation for the FRC hearing, review your file and make sure the appropriate documents have been filed with the Court. For example, if you served the other party with the Petition, make sure that the Proof of Service of Summons has been filed with the Court prior to the hearing. Also, bring extra copies to the hearing in case a document is missing from the Court’s file.
Self-Represented Family Resolution Conference
Similar to the FRC above, a Self-Represented Family Resolution Conference (referred to as a “SFRC”) is scheduled when both parties are in pro per (representing themselves). Rather than meet with the judge, all parties meet with the Family Law Facilitator who assists the parties in finalizing their divorce matter.
Request for Order
This hearing, commonly referred to as a “RFO,” is a motion hearing. To obtain this type of hearing, one party must file a Request for Order (Judicial Council Form FL-300) with the Court. Except for post-judgment RFOs, the filing of a RFO generally requests temporary orders pending the final trial and/or final settlement of the parties. Typical requests include child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney’s fees, and property restraint orders.
A RFO hearing generally lasts approximately 20-40 minutes. If more time is needed, the Court will consider scheduling a “long cause hearing” or “evidentiary hearing.” Similar to the FRC hearings, the Court schedules several RFO hearings at the same time. Thus, plan on being in Court for the entire morning or afternoon (depending on when your matter is scheduled).
Prior to the RFO hearing, the Court will review the pleadings filed by both parties. It is important to note the limitations on what can be filed with the Court, including page limitations for pleadings. A declaration filed with a Request for Order, as well as a responsive declaration, cannot exceed ten pages. A reply declaration cannot exceed five pages (See California Rule of Court 5.111 for full rule).
At the Request for Order hearing, the Court will allow both parties the opportunity to present additional argument. This does not mean that you can present new issues or evidence, as you are limited to the issues outlined in the initial Request for Order form (FL-300). Typically, the party who filed the RFO begins, followed by the other party who responds to the requests being made.
After the Court has heard from both parties, the Court will make a ruling on the pending issues. Although rare, the Court could decide to take the matter under submission and issue a ruling later. This means the Court needs more time to consider the evidence before making a decision. If the matter is taken under submission, the Court will either mail out the final ruling, or schedule a return date for the parties to come back to Court to hear the oral ruling.
Mandatory Settlement Conference
Once both parties have exchanged their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, and confirmed that they are finished with discovery, the Court will schedule a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC). As the name indicates, this hearing is mandatory. The Court will not schedule a trial until the parties attend a MSC.
Attendance at the MSC is mandatory, even if you reside out of state. If you do reside out of state, you can request to appear telephonically, but it must be approved by the Court. Thus, make sure the MSC is scheduled on a date you will be available.
In preparation for the MSC, both parties must prepare a MSC Brief. If you are in pro per, you can use the San Diego County Local Form: Mandatory Settlement Conference Brief (Form D-241). You can access the form here.
At the MSC, the parties (and their attorneys if represented) will meet with the voluntary settlement judge to discuss the pending issues. The settlement judge will provide his/her input as to each parties’ requests, giving them advice based on his/her experience in Family Court.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement at the MSC, the agreement will be recited on the record in the Courtroom. A formal judgment will then be prepared and submitted to the Court.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement at the MSC, the Court will schedule a trial.
Trial Setting Conference
This hearing, commonly referred to as a “TSC,” is scheduled by the Court in anticipation of an upcoming trial. The Court will inquire as to how many witnesses each party intends to have testify at trial, how many exhibits each party intends to use, how long each party thinks he/she needs to present his/her case, and identification of the disputed issues. Like a FRC, this hearing is very quick.
In a divorce proceeding, a trial is scheduled when the parties are unable to reach an agreement on all issues (child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, and attorney’s fees). Before scheduling a trial, both parties must complete their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and Final Declaration of Disclosure, complete all discovery, and attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference.
In preparation for the trial, both parties must file with the Court and exchange their Trial Briefs, Witness List, and Exhibit List. Make sure to check with your judge to see if he/she has any specific rules that must be followed (i.e. whether they prefer exhibits in a binder).
The length of the trial will depend on the amount of issues for the Court to decide. Each case is different; some trials can be completed in one day, while others take several weeks.
Boros Law Firm, APC can assist you at any stage of your divorce. Contact us today for a confidential consultation: (619)255-4013.