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Basic Steps in a Court Case

Cases have the same basic steps if they go all the way to a trial. But, many different things can happen and most cases do not go through all the steps.

  1. Pleading: every case starts with the filing of court papers. One side fills out and files papers in court asking the other side to file an answer. This is how both sides tell the court their positions. The papers starting the case must be delivered to the other side the right way. This is called service. In most cases (not Family Court), there is a court fee to start a case. If you can’t afford to pay the court fee, you can ask the court for a fee waiver.
  2. Discovery: you and the other side exchange information and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
  3. Pretrial: you get ready for trial by making decisions about what witnesses to call and what evidence to submit. You may have settlement meetings with the Judge or Court Attorney.
  4. Trial: the trial may be decided by a judge or a jury. It can last one day or for many months if it is complicated.
  5. Posttrial: after the trial is finished if you lose you may decide to appeal or if you win you will have to get a Judgment and you may take steps to enforce or Collect the Judgment.

During the case, if either side wants to ask the Judge for something in the case they do this by filing motion papers or an order to show cause. Both sides can agree to settle the case at any time.

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