What is a “Motion” and How Do You File One in the Family Court?

The question was put to me: What do I say on the motion form provided by the court when it asks “Motion For ______________”?

I’m going to assume you are a layperson (nonlawyer) trying to file something in court “pro se”–that is, on your own and without a lawyer.  A bit of civil procedure rules are required here: You can only file a “motion” when a case is already before the court; so if you do not have an active case (still being litigated and there has been no judgment entered), you must start an action by filing a Complaint. In the Probate & Family Courts of Massachusetts, this may be a Complaint for Modification [of an existing Order or Judgment], a Complaint for Contempt, A Complaint for Custody/Visitation, a Complaint to Establish Paternity, A Complaint of [Child] Support, a Complaint for Divorce, etc., to start a judicial review of your concerns. This is subject to all the rules of procedure controlling service and filing to commence an action. (See Mass. Rules of Civ Pro, Rule 4; http://www.mass.gov/courts/case-legal-res/rules-of-court/civil-procedure/mrcp4.html)  Then, once the action has been commenced, served and joined, either party (Plaintiff or Defendant) can proceed to make Motions.

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A “Motion” is so called because the party is seeking to “move the Court” in the direction of granting an order. It is “persuasive writing”, and typically will include not only a request for the [temporary] relief sought, but will be accompanied by a sworn affidavit from a personal with actual knowledge of the facts, upon which the Court may rest its decision.  Typically, the moving party (also called the “movant”) will attach exhibits and further evidence in support to the moving papers.  A motion can be made for almost any imaginably  relevant request for interim relief (that’s why “motion practice” can be tricky and complicated). Any request made to the Court or regarding the proceedings is made by motion; so, a motion to continue the hearing (adjourn to another date), a motion for temporary orders, a motion to be relieved as counsel, a motion to grant attorney fees –virtually anything– OTHER THAN THE ULTIMATE QUESTION  reserved for judgment, can (and must) be requested of the Court by “motion”.

A further civil procedure note here: service of motions must be in keeping with the statutory time to serve upon opposing party before a hearing date–typically ten days–in order to allow the respondent to file and serve a written response, if they so choose.  All motions must be filed, calendared for hearing before the Court and served on all parties.  Proof of service of the moving papers must be filed with the court. All motions will be heard before the Court, with both sides present and given an opportunity to address the issues, for and against, before a decision will be rendered by the Court. A last note here: Motion practice is used in both civil and criminal proceedings, but of course, criminal case motions follow the rules of criminal procedure not covered in this discussion.

Decisions on motions are usually of a temporary or interim nature; they may be modified, vacated or over ruled in the Final Decision and Judgment of the Court. However, decisions and orders on motion may also be incorporated into the final judgment–and they often are!

To answer your question specifically, the “Motion For” on the motion form is followed by:   whatever you want from the court, e.g. Motion to Continue the hearing, or motion to waive appearance, a motion for temporary custody…you get the picture. In the scenario presented in your fact pattern, you would file a Complaint for Modification [of Custody/Visitation], then file a Motion for Temporary Orders [to change the visitation schedule], and “such other and further relief as the Court deems appropriate”.

While I know there is a  trend in the courts to encourage self representation, and the courts have tried to streamline and simplify procedures, Family Court matters are serious, and should not be undertaken by inexperienced pro se litigants, anymore than a layperson should try to build their own house.  Consult with attorneys (plural) and retain counsel to structure your position in a light most favorable to the court and to help you navigate through these complex procedures and rules of court.

Respectfully submitted,

Estela Matta, Esq.

 

 

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