What happens when the respondent is served?
Once the summons is served on the respondent, a period of 30 days is given for the filing of a response. This is called the Answer. If no response is made, the respondent is in default.
What if we agree on everything?
Agreement about all the issues means the case is “uncontested.” This means the case can normally be handled faster. You still must go to court to show that you meet the legal requirements for the court to approve your agreement.
What if we can’t agree?
If the parties cannot agree about all issues, the case is "contested." The fastest and least expensive way to resolve disputes is to try to work out the issues with the other party in advance. The forms and materials on this website are NOT intended for contested cases, as they are very complex to be competently handled by anyone not assisted by a lawyer. Mediation can be useful for negotiating agreements. Some courts require people to go to mediation to try to resolve contested issues. If you are not able to work out your differences, you should contact a lawyer to help you present your case in court. People with contested cases must follow the law, the rules of procedure, and rules of evidence to prove their case.
Can I contact the judge assigned to my case if I have questions or concerns?
No! Judges must be fair to all parties. Rules of judicial conduct restrict judges from speaking to any party about their case outside of a hearing where all parties may be present and have their say.
Step 5. Preparing for the Hearing
The petition has been filed and the respondent has been served. What other forms are required to get ready for my hearing?
There may be additional forms that need to be prepared and filed with
the court before your hearing. The judge may wish to look over a
proposed judgment before the hearing. Check with your local court for
local court-specific forms. Required forms may include (depending on the
nature of your case):
- Certificate of Compliance of this Litigant Awareness Program
- Statement of Income and Expenses
- Statement of Property and Debts
- Form 14 Information Sheet
- Certificate of Dissolution
And if there are children age 17 or under involved:
- Documentation of Attendance at Parent Education Program
- Parenting Plan Part A (residential schedule) and Part B/Form 14 (child support)
- Documentation of Compliance with Order for Mediation (see local rules)
There may be additional paperwork to gather for the hearing, such as exhibits to be introduced as evidence.
What should I bring to the hearing?
You need to bring all the paperwork involved in your case. If your case
is contested you will have to prove your case with evidence, which can
include the testimony of other witnesses, documents, and exhibits. It is
a good idea to have copies of exhibits to give to the court and to the
other party(s) in the case. Here are some examples of possible exhibits:
financial records, income tax statements, pay check stubs, your monthly
bills, deeds and/or titles to property, and bank account and pension
Can I find out what the other party is going to say and bring to the hearing?
Both you and the respondent have the right to get information about witnesses
and copies of documents before the hearing. The process of obtaining and exchanging such information or evidence is called discovery
The rules of what you are allowed to get through discovery are
complicated, and strict time limits apply. You will benefit from having
the assistance of a lawyer if you need to get a lot of discovery for
Can I try to settle my case before the hearing?
Even after legal proceedings are initiated parties can settle their
differences before the hearing. Most cases do settle out of court. It is
better for everyone when parties agree. Mediation is always available
at any time throughout the legal process and highly recommended. The
family court judge/commissioner can and many times will appoint a
mediator, particularly if parents can't agree about how the children
will be cared for and how the parents will share their parenting
Step 6. The Hearing
How is a hearing scheduled?
In Missouri, hearings are scheduled through the circuit court. In some
circuits, a litigant will not be placed on the docket automatically, but
will need to request a hearing to get on the docket. Check with your
local court for the applicable procedure.
What needs to be done to prepare for the hearing?
There are many things that need to be done
before your court date and on the day of your appearance. You may want
to print a copy of this page to keep in your file.
- Read the laws pertaining to your case. Reading these laws will help prepare you for the case and avoid some mistakes.
- Properly fill out and turn in all court forms.
This is an important process. Your paperwork is your only way of
communicating with the judge. Direct contact with the judge outside of
the courtroom is prohibited. Forms can be filled out and filed in the
clerk's office. Remember, court employees cannot give legal advice.
- Make sure to serve the other party with court papers detailing the case against them.
You must give a copy of all documents filed with the court to the other
party. This is required so the other side is informed about the case.
- Visit the courtroom before your trial so you can become familiar with court procedures.
You may want to call the clerk's office to get a schedule of upcoming
cases. Most family law matters are handled in open court. Watching how
cases are presented in court will help you prepare for what happens in
- Make sure to pay all the fees. Some
court paperwork cannot be filed without paying a fee. If you feel that
you cannot pay the fees, then you can apply for a waiver of the fees.
You should ask the clerk's office for a waiver form.
- Call in advance if you need special accommodations.
The court gladly will help anyone with a disability. Calling in advance
will help the court make your experience in the courtroom the best
- Write out any questions for witnesses in advance.
This process will help you organize your case and make sure you cover
critical elements that the witness may know. Think about the kind of
testimony (information) you want from the witness when writing questions
you intend to ask.
- Create an outline/brief summary of your case.
This will help in the organization of your case. If you filed the case,
you have the responsibility to prove your legal right to receive what
you are requesting. If you go into court unprepared then you may forget
important points that may affect the outcome of your case.
I’ve never been to court. What should I expect?
Some courts use a formal room like those portrayed in movies or
on television. But some hearings may be held in a smaller courtroom or
even in the judge’s or commissioner’s office. Family law cases take
place in a "court of record." That means that a court reporter will make
a record of what is said. Respectful behavior is expected in the
What do I need to do the day of my hearing?
- Wear appropriate attire for the courtroom.
Wearing nice clothes will earn you respect from the others in the
courtroom. Items such as dress pants and a collared shirt are
- Arrive at court early. Remember, courts have tight security!
It may take a while to get in the building. The judge will not
appreciate anyone being late for a hearing, so give yourself plenty of
time to get through security and to make your way to the courtroom.
- Find out in advance where the courthouse is and the specific courtroom where your case is assigned.
When you arrive at court, check to make sure your case is on the docket
(often posted by the door to the courtroom). If not, check with the
- Read and organize all documents. Being familiar with the documents of the case will help you reach a satisfactory outcome.
- Make sure your witnesses show up for court. This is important
so you can get their testimony into the record. If you are having
trouble getting a witness to show up, you can request in advance that
the court clerk issue a subpoena. This will require an uncooperative
witness to show up.
- Before you go into court make sure you turn off all electronic items, i.e., cell phone, pagers, etc. Interruptions such as ringing cell phones are not appreciated by the court. Avoid any disruptions of other cases.
- Please dispose of any food or drinks before you enter the courtroom. It is common court etiquette to leave all food and drink outside the courtroom.
- Make sure you enter and leave the courtroom quietly, so as not to disturb others.
Silence is required of people when they are in a courtroom. Other cases
may be in progress when you arrive or depart the courtroom.
- The courtroom might have other people in it. Be ready to speak in front of strangers who are there.
The courtroom is a public space. People could be there observing or
waiting for their case. Be prepared to share your information with the
judge and anyone else who happens to be present.
What happens during the hearing?
- The judge or commissioner will call your case for the hearing. Make sure you stand when the judge/commissioner enters and when you are talking to the judge/commissioner.
- Address the judge or commissioner as "Your Honor." Do not
interrupt the judge/commissioner while he or she is talking. Speak
respectfully so the judge focuses on what you are saying when it is your
turn to speak.
- When your case is called for hearing, respond that you are "present."
The judge will tell you when you can come forward to the front of the
courtroom. The judge or commissioner will make some remarks before your
hearing begins. Listen to the judge and ask for any clarification if you
do not understand something. An official court reporter will be taking
down the testimony or the hearing will be tape recorded. Make sure you
speak loud enough to be heard.
- The petitioner will be heard first. The judge
may ask the petitioner to make a brief summary of the case to help the
judge understand what is being requested in this hearing. At this time,
the petitioner and petitioner's witnesses will testify.
- Testimony of Witnesses. Before the witnesses
testify they will be given an oath by the judge. The first question to
ask each witness is the witness's name and address, and if appropriate,
the witness's occupation. This will help lay a framework for further
questions. After this the witness may be asked questions that will bring
out the information pertaining to the case. Witnesses (other than
yourself), must be asked to respond to questions. They do not make
statements. The witness provides the testimony, so the witness needs to
include the information as part of the answer. The other party may
object to evidence which is offered. The party offering the evidence may
respond to the objection. The judge or commissioner will decide if the
objection is valid. Wait for the judge's decision before you proceed and
do not interrupt the judge. You have the right to cross examine the
other side's witnesses. Make sure you have questions written down when
you go up to cross examine. Show respect for all witnesses, even though
they may be testifying against you.
- The respondent is heard second. The respondent
who appears in court also has the opportunity to summarize his or her
view of the case, to present evidence, and call witnesses. The
petitioner may object to evidence offered by the respondent. During the
course of the hearing the judge may ask questions at any time. Listen
attentively to the question and then answer.
- Rebuttal evidence. After the respondent’s
presentation, the petitioner may present evidence to rebut (contradict)
evidence the respondent presented. The respondent also may present
THE CAREFUL INTRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE IS IMPORTANT. The judge will decide
the case on the evidence presented. In contested cases it is
recommended that you have the assistance of a lawyer to present your
case so that the best record possible can be created in your case.
When will the judge decide my case?
After the evidence, the judge or commissioner will make a decision,
which may be announced at the time of the hearing. But often the judge
or commissioner will take additional time to consider the evidence and
the law before deciding a case.
The case will conclude with a written order from the judge.
This is the final outcome of the case. You may be required to write the
judgment. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY THAT THE JUDGMENT IS WRITTEN
CORRECTLY AND INCLUDES EVERYTHING YOU EXPECTED. A party who did not
draft the judgment usually will have an opportunity to review the
judgment or order before it is entered. The clerk will mail a copy of
the signed order or judgment to each party.
What do I have to do after the judge signs the judgment or order?
First, you must do all the things the judge ordered you to do. Failing
to do what the judge ordered may result in additional court proceedings
for enforcement of the judgment or for contempt of court.
If another party in the case fails to comply with the judge's orders you
bring it to the judge's attention by filing enforcement or contempt
proceedings with the court.