When you are served with a motion from your ex-spouse after the entry of Judgment of Divorce, there are five action you need to make immediately to protect yourself. If you fail to make these actions, the judge or Friend of the Court Referee will make a ruling on the motion and typically grant your ex-spouse the relief requested in the motion.
1. READ THE MOTION. You need to thoroughly read the motion including the relief that your ex-spouse is asking the judge to do. Start off by slowly reading the title of the motion. If it is long, it may indicate what your ex-spouse is wanting to do. Look for phrases such as “Modification of custody” “modification of parenting time,” “show cause,” or anything that suggest a change is being requested. Most motions that we assist clients on either request a modification to the terms of the last order entered by the court or enforcement of the provisions of the last order. Next, slowly read paragraph in the motion. These should be number and limited to one fact per paragraph. Try not to react to what is being said, as hard as that may be. Your goal is to understand what your ex-spouse is saying. Finally, does the motion and its accompanying paperwork tell you when the court will hear the motion. Be sure to note this date and time.
2. CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY. After you have thoroughly read and understand the motion that you were served with, the second action to take is to decide whether you need to consult with an attorney, or can you represent yourself in responding to this motion. If there is some evidence that you may want to present to the court, including text messages and emails, then it may be beneficial to at least request and pay for a consultation with a family law attorney. When you are deciding to consult with an attorney, it is beneficial to find one whose practice focuses on the issue that the motion is addressing. Do not be afraid to ask the reception if the attorney helps clients who have to respond to your exact motion. After you meet with the attorney, you will need to decide if you need this person by your side and advocating on your behalf or if you are comfortable doing this on your own. In order to make this decision, you may need to assess what kind of attorney your ex-spouse has hired, if you agree with what your ex-spouse is requesting, or if you have the knowledge to properly respond and present your position to the court. During your consultation, you should discuss if the attorney provides services outside of full representation, such as just drafting a response for you.
3. RESPOND TO THE MOTION. You have options in how your respond. You can respond in writing. You can show up to the motion hearing and respond orally. You can respond both in writing and showing up to the motion hearing to orally respond. Finally, you can choose to do no response. It is our recommendation to clients that chances of a better outcome can happen when the response is both in writing and at the motion hearing. If you choose to respond in writing, you will need to know the timeframe that judges like to have the response by. Many judges will read both the motion and response prior to the motion hearing. It is our position that having the judge have time in advance to under your position as the party responding to the motion is always better than waiting to the day of the hearing.
Once you have decided how to respond, drafting a proper response will be appropriate. The party filing the motion will need to show the court that he has met the grounds for filing the motion, particularly if the motion is requesting a change in custody or parenting time. Can you clearly identify what is being cited as the change in circumstances or proper cause for filing this motion? If the reason for filing the motion is insufficient, it should be clearly addressed in your response. This is where having an attorney assist you can be helpful. Be sure to respond to each paragraph and address what your ex-spouse addressed in his corresponding paragraph in his motion. After your response is drafted, file it with the court and serve a copy on your ex-spouse or his attorney.
4. ATTEND THE HEARING. Be sure to allow plenty of time to go through security at the courthouse without being late. In smaller courthouses, this may not be an issue. However, if you attend a large courthouse, such as the Sixth Circuit in Pontiac, the lines to get into the courthouse on motion day can be quite long and waits to just pass through security could be up to half hour. Leave your cell phone in your vehicle. Many courthouses do not allow cell phones, unless you are a currently licensed attorney. If there is evidence on your phone, find a way to print it or download to a device that you can take in. When you arrive at the judge’s courtroom, be sure to check in with the clerk. If there are further instructions, the clerk will inform you at that time. In the Sixth Circuit, if a motion involves issues that the Referee could assist in resolving, you will be instructed on where to let the Referee know you are ready to proceed.
5. READ BEFORE YOU SIGN. Thoroughly read any order being entered after the motion hearing before you sign it. If an agreement was reached for summertime only, be sure that it is clearly stated in the order. Many orders entered following a motion will be handwritten by an attorney, the filing party, or the Referee. Do not leave sign this Order until it clearly states what the agreement reached was or what the judge said on record. A word of caution, if the judge made a ruling that you do not agree with, refusing to sign the order will not prevent the court from entering a written order that reflects the judge’s ruling. If you contest the ruling, you may need to consult with an appellate attorney. Remember, never ignore a motion that you have received. Your lack of response can alter your rights and responsibilities. If you want to consult with an attorney on a motion you received, schedule your paid consultation today.