There are several different types of hearings in Arizona family court cases. Each type can have unique goals and procedure. Understanding the differences can help you better prepare for your hearing.
The information below is provided as a general explanation and may not always apply. Family court judges sometimes use terminology interchangeably or specify different instructions/procedure in their minute entries. Always be sure to carefully review minute entries for important dates and instructions from your judge.
Early Resolution Conference
At an early resolution conference (or “ERC”), parties meet with a family law case manager whose goal is to facilitate agreement between the parties, like mediation. The parties and their attorneys, if represented, can attend this hearing and it typically lasts 2-3 hours. Before the hearing, each party usually will be required to complete a position or proposed resolution statement that outlines his or her positions and proposed resolutions for each of the contested issues.
RESOLUTION MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE
A resolution management conference (or “RMC”) is a organizational hearing with the judge assigned to your case. Similar to an early resolution conference, each party is required to submit a proposed resolution statement, pursuant to Rule 76. No evidence or testimony is presented and the court does not enter any orders regarding the contested issues unless the parties agree. The court can order the parties to attend other services, such as a parenting conference or mediation.
The family court can set a status conference when it wants the parties to provide an update regarding the progress of litigation. These are commonly scheduled when a party is undergoing some type of extrajudicial services like therapeutic intervention or reunification or when the court asks appointed personnel to provide an update. Depending on the judge, the status conference may be set telephonically.
By definition, return hearings are supposed to be the post-decree equivalent of a resolution management conference. Return hearings are typically scheduling conferences. However, be sure to read any minute entry setting a return hearing very carefully. Some judges do use “return hearings” to resolve motions for temporary orders. The minute entry should specify if evidence and testimony will be presented.
More commonly known as a trial, an evidentiary hearing is a hearing where the parties have an opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony. Each party is allotted approximately half of the total time (judges usually reserve a few minutes for questions or preliminary matters). The minute entry that sets trial will contain many important deadlines, including the date by which all evidence must be disclosed to the other party and the date by which each party must file a pretrial statement. Failure to comply with these dates can have devastating consequences including the waiver of claims or defenses, the exclusion of evidence, sanctions, or even the dismissal of your petition.