Common Family Law Terms

Any case can be confusing and intimidating for anyone unfamiliar with the legal process. Family law cases are no exception. The following is a list of terms that might appear on court documents you file or receive from an opposing party in a family law case. This list is not exhaustive but can be used as a tool to understand generally what is going on in a divorce, child custody and visitation, support or domestic violence proceeding.

Ex Parte: An Ex Parte hearing is an emergency proceeding where one party can make a request of the court without waiting for his or her arguments to be heard on the court’s regular calendar schedule. Normally, a party must receive notice before a motion will be heard. For an Ex Parte, the party requesting emergency relief must only provide notice by 10:00 a.m. on the day prior to the scheduled hearing. Ex Parte hearings should be approached with caution and reserved only for true emergency situations. The Ex Parte procedures differ in the various San Diego family courts. However, a party may only appear Ex Parte in the court where his or her case is currently filed. If no case is filed in any court, the party must appear in the proper court depending on where he or she lives in San Diego.

Order to Show Cause (OSC): An OSC is a request made by a party for a judge to make orders in his or her case. Once the OSC is filed with the court, it is served on the opposing party who is ordered to appear at a hearing to decide whether or not the judge will grant the relief requested. The opposing party is given a chance to reply to the OSC and explain why or why not the request should be granted. An OSC may be filed for requests regarding child custody and visitation, attorney fees, modifications of previous orders, temporary support and many other family law related matters.

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Family Resolution Conference (FRC): The court, not the parties, sets a Family Resolution Conference, formerly known as a Case Management Conference (CMC). However, attendance is mandatory unless the party has retained an attorney to attend on his or her behalf. The goal of the FRC is for the parties to provide the judge with a timetable regarding their case. If the judge is unsatisfied with the case progress he or she may set future dates for the parties to return to court for a settlement conference or trial.

Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC): MSC are scheduled by the court in order to encourage parties to settle the issues in a divorce, child custody and visitation, support or other family law case. A settlement judge will assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable solution. Many local attorneys with strong family law experience volunteer their time to act as the settlement judge in these proceedings. MSC dates are usually set toward the end stage of the case once the parties have had plenty of time to collect all the necessary information to reach a settlement.

Family Court Services (FCS): Family Code section 3170 mandates that in any dissolution case where the parties disagree on custody and visitation the court shall assign the parties an FCS date prior to their first court hearing. On this date the parties will meet with a FCS mediator. It is the mediator’s job to assist the parties in reaching an agreement that is in the best interest of the minor children. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the FCS mediator will then prepare a recommendation to provide to both parties and the court.

Family law case proceedings are complicated and if you have any questions regarding the court process please contact Nancy J. Bickford at (858)793-8884 to schedule a consultation.