Basic Steps in a Court Case

Court cases that go to trial go through five basic steps. Each step is explained below. The facts of every case are different. Even though there are five basic steps that usually happen in a case, many cases will not go through every step listed.

  1. Pleading: A pleading is a written statement that explains what happened and what you want the court to do. In some courts, the pleading is called a petition. Every case starts with someone filing papers with a court. The person starting the case is called the plaintiff or petitioner. The person filing the pleading asks the other side to submit an answer. The other side is called the defendant or respondent. The pleading tells the court one side of the story. The answer tells the court the other side of the story. The papers starting the case must be delivered to the other side the right way. This is called service. In most cases 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. Family court cases are free.
  2. Discovery:This happens when each side collects and shares, information, and documents about the case with each other. It helps both sides understand the full story and learn the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
  3. Pretrial: This is the period of time when you prepare for trial. You will need to decide which witnesses you will call and what evidence you will submit to the court. During this time you may have a pre-trial conference or settlement meetings with the Judge or Court Attorney. A pre-trial conference is a meeting that the Judge and both sides of the case are present at. They talk about what will be presented to the jury, what evidence they plan to use, which witnesses they plan to have, and they set a trial schedule. Settlement options can also be discussed during the pre-trial conference.
  4. Trial: A Judge or a jury may decide the trial. It can last one day or for many months if it is complicated.
  5. Posttrial: Posttrial is the period of time after the trial is over. If you lose the trial, you may appeal the decision. If you win the trial, 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 they do this by filing an order to show cause or a notice of motion. It is important to read the Judge’s part rules, to learn how to ask for something. Visit the court’s website to locate the Judge’s part rules or contact the court directly to learn how to get a copy. Both sides can agree to settle the case at any time..

YouTube DIY Forms Ask a Law Librarian