Anatomy of a Family Case
The first document (also called a pleading) filed in a case is a Complaint or Petition. This document tells the court what the case is about and what you want the court to do for you (for example, grant you a divorce or give you custody of a child).
Form pleadings are available in paper form at the courthouse and on-line.
Pleadings must be filed in the Clerk’s office. Generally, there will be a fee for filing the first document in the case.
After a Complaint is filed with the Clerk’s office, they will send out a document called a Summons. This is a paper that informs the other party in your case that you have filed a case and that they have a certain number of days to respond to your Complaint.
Your case cannot go forward until the other party has been notified that you have filed a case. You must notify them by serving the Summons and a copy of your Complaint on the other party. Service can be accomplished in a variety of ways. When the other party has been served, you must let the court know by filing an Affidavit of Service.
After the other party in your case has been formally served with Summons and Complaint, they have the right to respond to what you said in your Complaint. This document is called an Answer. If both parties agree on everything in the Complaint, and there is nothing for a Judge or Magistrate to decide, the case is uncontested and will be set for a simple hearing. If there are things that the parties want to court to decide, the case is contested.
If the other party does not answer the complaint within the time specified in the Summons (30 days if they reside in Maryland), the person who filed the Complaint may wish to ask the court to find the other party in default.
A default can be granted after proper service, sufficient elapse of time, and failure to file an Answer. A proper request must be filed with the Clerk’s office, proof of proper service must be filed, and an Affidavit must be submitted that provides detailed information about the other party’s military service. If a default Order is signed, the other party has 30 days to ask that the default be vacated. If they fail to do so, the case automatically gets set for a final hearing. Forms People's Law Library
If there is conflict about children, the court may order attendance at an educational seminar. At the seminars parents receive vital information about the effects of family conflict on their children. Children between the ages of 6 and 15 may be ordered to attend a separate Children’s Seminar. Parenting Education
At the Scheduling Conference, the parties meet with a Magistrate. The Magistrate will help the parties narrow down the issues and assess the case for needed services. The Magistrate will also assign dates for the rest of the significant events in the case (i.e., Pendente Lite Hearing, Court Ordered Settlement Conference, Pre-trial Hearing, Trial on the Merits).
The Magistrate may set a Pendente Lite hearing if there are emergency issues that need to be resolved prior to the Trial on the Merits (for example, temporary child support, temporary custody, etc.). A Pendente Lite is not set for every case.
About a month prior to trial, cases with extremely complex issues may be set for a hearing before the Judge who will try the case. The conference is set so that the Judge can insure that everyone is prepared for the upcoming trial.