What Happens at an Ex Parte Hearing?


“Ex parte” means that only one party to a lawsuit appears at a hearing. It happens only in limited circumstances -- usually emergencies -- because the party who doesn’t appear has no opportunity to defend himself. The judge makes a ruling without notification to the other party, so the orders are usually only temporary.

Notification to the Other Party

  • Normally, when one party to a lawsuit asks the court to do something, he must serve a copy of the petition or motion on the other party so she has an opportunity to object. Ex parte hearings don’t require notice to the other party, usually because something very serious is occurring and irreparable harm might come to the person requesting the hearing if it isn’t scheduled right away. This might be the case if your ex is on the verge of taking your children out of the country without your consent, or in domestic violence situations where you’re in danger and you need an order to make the other person stay away from you. If lawyers are involved, some judges will make every effort to bring both lawyers to the hearing so they can negotiate a resolution. However, in many cases, you can request an ex parte hearing to deal with your problem and appear before the judge within a day or so, if not within hours.

Testimony and Evidence

  • If you’re the only party present at the ex parte hearing, the judge must base his decision entirely on what you say. The other party to the lawsuit or legal proceeding can’t cross-examine you, although the judge may ask you questions. The judge’s ruling might come down to whether he finds you believable and whether the situation you want to address really is an emergency. You can take proof or evidence with you to help present your case. For example, if you’re in danger and you need a restraining order, you might have police reports or medical records related to incidents that occurred in the past.

Typical Outcome

  • If the judge rules in your favor, the order he makes will govern the situation until a more formal hearing can take place. The other party must receive notice of the second hearing, which typically takes place 10 to 20 days later, but this can vary by state. Some courts allow you to ask for a “continuance,” which means you can postpone the second hearing for another 10 to 20 days if you have a good reason. At the second hearing, the other party or his lawyer can cross-examine you -- and the judge will hear evidence from both sides. The judge will issue a more permanent order.

Effect on Other Orders

  • A temporary ex parte order supersedes any other orders that might already be in place. For example, if your ex has custody of your children and they’re supposed to be in his care for another five days but you think he’s going to flee the country, the ex parte order might require him to immediately turn the kids over to you. It takes precedence over the original order because the judge believes that irreparable harm will occur if the children are allowed to remain in his care.


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