Washington

Family Law: How to get a Continuance of Your Hearing

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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What is a continuance?

It changes the date of a hearing in a case. If you do not think that you have enough time to get ready for or go to a hearing, or to meet a deadline to file something before a hearing in your case, you may want to ask for a continuance. Use this publication if:

  • You have been served with a motion in a family law case AND

  • You need to ask the court to continue the hearing  

To get a continuance for a trial, you must usually:

  • File a motion with the court

  • Serve the other party

You will need to explain why you need the continuance. Also, you will almost always have to show good cause. "Good cause" means a very good reason for not being able to get ready for your case or go to your trial on the date that is already set.

Getting a trial continuance can be complicated. Talk with a lawyer and read your local court rules before filing a motion for a trial continuance. Most counties have specific rules about when you can get a trial continuance and the things you must do to get a continuance.  

Why would I want the court to continue a hearing?

The most common reason is that you do not think you can file a written response in time.  Talk with a lawyer about whether you need to file a written response in your case. In most family law cases in Washington, if you are served with a motion, you have to file a written response. There is usually a deadline for your written response. The local court rules will say what your deadline to file and serve your written response is. If you cannot contact a lawyer before your hearing to talk about the local rules, try the court clerk, facilitator or law librarian. You can also check the Administrative Office of the Court's website. The local rules may be there: http://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.local&group=local.

You will usually need a good reason to get a continuance. Here are some:

  • You did not get served enough days before the hearing. The number of days you are supposed to be served before your hearing depends on the type of case and the county where the case is filed. If you do not know how many days before the hearing you were supposed to be served, check with a lawyer or a court facilitator. Example: If you were supposed to be served seven days before a hearing but you were only served three days before the hearing, you should tell the judge[1] that and ask for a continuance.

  • You need more time to get ready because you could not get legal advice yet. You should tell the judge the specific reasons you have not been able to get advice yet. Examples: If you live outside Washington, or you have contacted several places for help but have not been able to talk to a lawyer yet, explain what steps you have taken to try to get help. Tell the judge if you have an appointment to meet with an attorney or legal services.

  • You need more time to respond because you have a disability or are temporarily disabled, are illiterate, or have problems with reading, writing or comprehension.

  • You do not speak English as your first language and you need more time to find someone to translate the documents you were served and prepare your response.  (You are entitled to have an interpreter at any court hearing if you do not speak English as a first language.)

  • You cannot get the evidence you need by the date your written response is due. Example: If there is a dispute over the parenting plan and the other party has said things about you that are not true, you may need more time to get declarations from other people and school, medical, and/or criminal records.

How do I get a hearing continued?

You will either have to:

  • Get the other party to agree OR

  • Go to court to ask for a continuance  

If the county where the case is filed has local rules about how to get a continuance, follow them. Find out what the local rules for continuances are by talking to a lawyer before your hearing; asking the court clerk, facilitator, or law librarian. Or check the Superior Court's website. The local rules may be there: http://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.local&group=local.

Continuance by Agreement

  • Contact the other party or their lawyer to find out if the other party will agree to a continuance.[2]  If the other party has a lawyer, you must contact the lawyer.  

  • If you contact the other party or their lawyer by phone, follow up with a written letter, fax, or email that states that you asked for a continuance.[3]

  • If the other party or their lawyer agrees to a continuance, ask the other party to put something in writing (letter, fax, or email) confirming the hearing is continued. It should also say the new date of the hearing, if possible.

  • The other party or their lawyer will have to tell the court that they want the hearing continued. Call the court clerk. Make sure the other party has told the court the hearing is continued. Ask the clerk whether a new date for the hearing has been set.

Sometimes the other party will only agree to a continuance if you agree to certain things before the next hearing. If you think the conditions are reasonable (or that a judge would think they are reasonable), you may agree to the conditions. If you do not agree to the other party's conditions or the new proposed date for the hearing, you MUST go to court to ask for a continuance.

Continuance by Court Order

If you have time before the hearing and you can make it to the courthouse, you should:

  1. File a declaration with the court asking for a continuance.  In your declaration, tell the judge why you need the continuance. Explain how you will be able to do a better job presenting the evidence in your case if you have more time. Explain some of the things that you want to tell the court (in case you do not get a continuance). Explain why you think you or someone else will be harmed if you do not get the continuance. If you asked the other party to agree to a continuance and they refused, tell the judge. Attach any letters, faxes or emails you sent the other party and any written response.

  2. File your original declaration requesting a continuance with the court clerk. File an extra copy for the judge. The clerk can explain how to file an extra copy for the judge. Someone (not you) who is eighteen or older must serve the other party or the other person's lawyer with your declaration. That person should also fill out a Return of Service form to prove that the other party was served. You will need to file the Return of Service form with the court clerk, or at least bring it with you to the hearing. Keep a copy of the declaration for your records. Bring it with you to the hearing.

  3. Get ready for the hearing. Write out what you want to tell the judge about a continuance. Be ready to present your case if the judge does not agree to continue your hearing.[4]   

  4. Go to the hearing. You must arrive on time or a few minutes before the hearing. When the judge calls out your name, tell the Judge you are present and you are asking for a continuance.  The judge may ask you to explain why you want a continuance. If the judge agrees to grant a continuance, the judge will usually also set a new hearing date at that hearing. If you only have a few days before the next hearing, ask the judge when your response is due. You or the other party should prepare a written order for the judge to sign that says when the next hearing is, when your response is due, and anything else the judge orders. (Examples: that a parent will have a visit with a child, that one of the parties can live in the family home, and so on.)  Get a copy of the signed order before you leave the courthouse.

  5. If your request for a continuance is denied, write down the reasons the judge gives for denying the request. If you think you had a good reason for asking for the continuance and your request was denied, contact an attorney immediately. You have a short time to appeal the decision.

What if I need Legal Help?                                                        

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. CLEAR works with a language line to provide callers free interpreters as needed. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-888-201-1014 using your preferred TTY or Video relay service.

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide callers free interpreters as needed. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a free relay operator. They will then connect you with 211. You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

 

Sample Letter

Dear [Other Party] or [Opposing Party Attorney]:


As I explained today, I need a continuance of the hearing on [DATE]. I am asking for a continuance because [PROVIDE REASON].  Please let me know by [ENTER DATE] if you will agree to a continuance. If you agree, please send me a letter, fax, or email that says that you agree to the continuance.


Thank you for considering my request.


Sincerely,
YOUR NAME
ATTACH Blank motion and declaration for request for continuance


Footnotes:


1. You may have a commissioner or a judge at your hearing, depending on where your case is filed.

2. If there is a restraining order that says you and the other party cannot have contact or you think it would be dangerous for you to talk to the other party for some reason, do not contact the other party. Just ask the judge for a continuance.

3. Do this even if you call the other party or the other party's lawyer and you cannot reach agreement about a continuance. If the other party's lawyer shows up at the hearing, the other party can try to argue that you should have to pay for their attorney fees for that hearing because you did not try to change the date of the hearing before the hearing.

4. Some counties regularly grant continuances, especially when it is the first hearing in the case. Others do not. Talk to a lawyer in your county to find out how likely it is that you would get a continuance.

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This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. This information is current as of March 2014.

© 2014 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)