Family Law: How to get a Continuance of Your Hearing
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
- What is a continuance?
- Why would I want to get a hearing continued?
- How do I get a hearing continued?
- What if I need legal help?
- Sample letter
It changes the date of a hearing in a case. If you do not think that you have enough time to get ready for a hearing, go to a hearing, or 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 for the hearing to be continued.
To get a continuance for a trial, you must usually:
- File a motion with the court and
- 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 an attorney 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.
The most common reason is that you do not think you can file a written response in time. Talk with an attorney 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 an attorney before your hearing to talk about the local rules, try 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.
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 an attorney 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  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 an attorney 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 that 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.
You will either have to:
- Get the other party to agree or
- Go to court to ask for a continuance.
If there are local court rules in the county where the case is filed about how to get a continuance, follow them. Find out what the local rules for continuances are by talking to an attorney 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 attorney to find out if the other party will agree to a continuance.  If the other party has an attorney, you must contact the attorney.
If you contact the other party or their attorney by phone, follow up with a written letter, fax, or email that states that you asked for a continuance. 
If the other party or their attorney agrees to a continuance, ask the other party to put something in writing (letter, fax, or email) that confirms that the hearing is continued. It should also say the new date of the hearing, if possible.
The other party or their attorney will have to tell the court that they want the hearing continued. Call the court clerk to make sure that the other party has told the court that the hearing is continued. You should also 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:
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 to the other party and any written response from them.
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 attorney 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.
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. 
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.
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.
Apply online with CLEAR*Online - http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help
- Call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014
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 interpreters as needed at no cost to callers. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please 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, which may be useful when calling from a pay phone, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide interpreters as needed at no cost to callers. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to be connected to a relay operator at no cost, who will then connect them with 211. Information on legal service providers in King County may also be accessed 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.
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 the date of its printing, August 2012.
© 2012 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.)
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.
ATTACH Blank motion and declaration for request for continuance
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 attorney and you cannot reach agreement about a continuance. If the other party's attorney 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.