Motions in a Court Case

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A motion is an oral or written request made to the court for a ruling, or an order, on a particular point. A motion can be made before, during, or after a trial. It’s a common court procedure for deciding issues that come up during the course of a lawsuit.

  • Motions can be made by anyone named in a court case, on either side.
  • Motions cannot be made by someone not named in the case. A witness, for instance, may not make a motion.

Some examples of motions are:

  • Before a trial, you may want to ask that the trial itself be postponed from one date to another. To do this you could file a motion requesting that the schedule be changed.
  • During a trial, if the judge rules that some part of a witness’s testimony is not relevant, you could make a motion asking that that inadmissible testimony be deleted from the court’s record.
  • After a trial, you may want to have the amount of your court-ordered child support changed. To do this you would file a motion asking the judge to make the change.

Courts have a number of rules about how and when motions can be filed. For example, the California Rules of Court, Title 3 (Civil Rules), Division 11 (Law and Motion), Chapter 2 (Format of Motioned Papers), Rule 3.1112 Opens new window states that:

A motion must:

  1. Identify the party or parties bringing the motion;
  2. Name the parties to whom it is addressed;
  3. Briefly state the basis for the motion and the relief Opens new window sought; and
  4. If a pleading Opens new window is challenged, state the specific portion challenged.

Before you make or respond to a motion, it would be best to check the court rules – state and local – to learn what is required. Rules may be different depending on the type of case it is. Rules may be different from court to court – or even courtroom to courtroom. Rules may be different depending on what you are asking the court to do.

Among the questions you will want to ask are:

  • Does this motion have to be in writing?
  • If yes, do you have to tell (give notice to) the other side that you are “bringing” the motion?

    • Can you have the other side "served" Opens new window with these documents by mail?
    • Do you have to file a "proof of service" Opens new window with the court?
  • Do you need supporting documentation for your motion, such as a reference to the laws that entitles you to the order?
  • What is the format the court wants the written motion, notice of motion, and supporting documentation to be in? (For example: Does the court want two holes punched in the top of each page? How should be pages be numbered? Need an index be provided?)
  • If the motion is asking the court to do something simple, and the other side does not object, the judge will often decide whether to grant or deny the request without holding a hearing about the issue.

However, if the issue is complex, or if the other side objects to the motion, the judge may schedule a hearing to decide that point. A hearing gives the people involved a chance to answer questions from the judge and to argue for or against the motion.

NOTE: Before making a written motion - or responding to one - try informally to reach an agreement with the other party about the issue. If both sides can agree on their own, they can prepare a document called a “stipulation.” Opens new window Ask the court clerk and check the rules in your court for any special procedures for preparing and filing a stipulation. These will usually be much simpler than filing a motion. `

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