Hearings and Trials

Authored By: Bay Area Legal Services, Inc. - Hillsborough/Tampa


Hearings and Trials - What you need to know

A motion or petition is a request for the court to make a decision. A hearing or trial is the time when the court (a judge, general magistrate, or a hearing officer) makes the decision on a party’s motion or petition. Generally, motions are decided at a hearing and petitions are decided at a trial. The person making the decision on what is granted or denied will be either a judge, a general magistrate, or a hearing officer (referred to here as “the court”). 

What is a hearing or trial?

A hearing/trial is a meeting with the court and both parties where the court will consider evidence that both sides present and will make a decision (possibly that day, possibly later). 

What's the difference between a hearing and a trial?

  • A Hearing is any court session in which legal argument and/or evidence is presented to determine some issue of law or fact or both issues of law and fact. A hearing is usually a brief session involving a specific motion or question at some time prior to the trial itself. Hearings on motions are usually shorter and less formal than a trial. However, at least one motion is more like a trial (or mini-trial). A motion for contempt requires a party to present evidence to prove that someone has not complied with a judgment or court order.
  • A Trial is a court session in which primarily evidence is presented to the court so the court can determine some ultimate issue in the case. Legal argument may also be made at a trial. 

Who brings the evidence?

The court CANNOT investigate the case. The court cannot call witnesses or present evidence. It is YOUR responsibility to present admissible evidence at a hearing/trial to support what you’ve requested in a motion/petition or to defend against what the other party has requested in their motion/petition. Evidence can be witness testimony, testimony of you and/or the other party, documents, photographs, objects, etc. Admissible evidence is evidence that the court is allowed to consider under the Rules of Evidence (see Florida Statutes, chapter 90). For example, letters from non-parties and repeating what a non-party told you (unless they are present in court to testify) generally are hearsay and are not admissible in court. However there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule and admissibility of evidence should be researched before your hearing or trial.

How much time will I have to present evidence?

Generally, you have HALF of the time scheduled to present your evidence. If the hearing is scheduled for 30 minutes, each side has roughly 15 minutes to present their evidence to support their request. 

What are case management conferences?

Case Management Conferences are hearings scheduled by the court to determine the status of the case. Generally, Case Management Conferences are not hearings where decisions on motions or petitions will be made. 

Who tells the other party about the hearing or trial?

If you are scheduling a hearing, it is your responsibility to notify the other party. You are required to send a Notice of Hearing to the other party at the last address in the court file (good idea to also send to all other known/possible addresses) and to list all addresses used for the other party on the Notice of Hearing. If you are the other party, it is your responsibility to keep your address current in the court file. All documents filed by you should state your current address.

Updated: May 4, 2017 

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