How to File a Motion: Easy Guide for Divorce Cases

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Introduction

To me, the phrase “file a motion” is akin to the Freddy Krueger jingle “One, two, going to buckle my shoe.” After nearly 5 years, 3 lawyers, and over $300,000 in debt, I found myself representing myself for the final year of my divorce process, including a trial that would span 9 days, which actually takes 9 months. I quickly discovered that whenever I needed the judge to hear, which meant asking him/her to resolve an issue, I had to file a mountain of paperwork, otherwise known as “motions.” As I desperately tried to keep my case from completely derailing, navigating the complex world of legal motions felt totally daunting.

Yet with the stakes so high, giving up wasn’t an option. Through many late nights of research and tears of frustration, I slowly learned how to successfully file motions on my own. Now I want to share what I wish I’d known from the start about filing motions without an attorney, so you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way.

In this article, I’ll walk through the essentials of filing a motion, from understanding what they are to following up after submitting one. I’ll draw from my own experiences fighting to survive a nightmare divorce and trial. My goal is to empower you with the knowledge and resources I desperately needed but couldn’t easily find.

Key Takeaways

What is a motion?

In my experience, a motion is a formal request made by a party in a legal case, asking the court to take a specific action or make a particular ruling. It’s a way for me to communicate with the court and get the judge’s decision on certain issues. Motions can help move the case forward, resolve disputes in the process, or even potentially end the case altogether.

It’s essential for me to follow the proper procedure when filing a motion. That means I need to choose the right type of motion, draft my arguments, and submit any supporting documents. However, one thing I was not told is that, at least in NJ, the form itself is going to be a standard motion form before the final judgment, then a standard “post-judgment” motion form for anything that occurs after the final judgment. It’s also important to be timely with my motion since different stages of the legal case have specific deadlines for motions. Especially after I received my final judgment, I had 10 days to request it be thrown out and 45 to appeal. What I ended up doing was filing a post-judgment motion to Amend the Final judgment, which, if it got denied, I could then file an appeal, but all of that had to be written in the motion.

Different Types of Motions

There are many types of motions that I can file, depending on the case’s needs and the stage of the legal process. Some of the common types of motions include:

  • Motions to Dismiss: I file this motion if I want to argue that the case should be thrown out for a legal reason, like a lack of jurisdiction or failure to state a proper claim.
  • Motions for Summary Judgment: When I believe there are no material facts in dispute and I’m entitled to win the case based on the law, I file this type of motion.
  • Motions in Limine: A pretrial motion that addresses the admissibility of evidence before the trial starts I filed them to exclude or include certain evidence to ensure a fair trial.
  • Motions to Compel: If the opposing party isn’t cooperating with my discovery requests, I may file a motion to compel to ask the court to order them to provide the requested information or documents.
  • Motions for Contempt: When someone violates a court order, like a spousal support or custody agreement, I might file a motion for contempt to ask the court to enforce the order.
  • motion to enforce litigants rights (enforce support): A motion to enforce a litigant’s rights is a legal action that seeks to enforce a court order or judgment. This motion can be filed when one party is not complying with the terms of a court order or judgment. In New Jersey, the most common method of seeking enforcement of a court order is to file a motion seeking to hold the opposing party in violation of the litigant’s rights.
  • Motion to either raise or lower the amount of child support that is paid.
  • Motion to discontinue child support payments.
  • Motion to change parenting time arrangements that are currently in place with regard to your case.
  • Motion for a formal request for the emancipation of a minor (termination of child support obligation)
  • Motion requesting reimbursement of medical expenses
  • Motion for Change of Venue (county in which the case is being heard)
  • Motion to relocate or remove children from a location or home.
  • Motion to request to return to using your maiden name following a divorce (if this is not formally stated in your divorce decree)
  • Motion for Reconsideration (this is before you appeal, because appealing a case is a long, arduous process and very expensive, but note time constraints of each.)
  • Motion for Reinstatement of your complaint for divorce, if you had previously withdrew (time constraints)
  • Counter motion in response to one received by your opposing party. This is where you tell your side of the story and ask for what you want. Without this formal request, you may or may not get it. Always Answer!

These are just a few examples of the types of motions you may need to file, depending on your case’s circumstances. It’s important to know what each motion entails and when it’s most appropriate to file to make sure you are advancing your case effectively. I personally filed probably half of those motions throughout the five long years my divorce took, and 90% of them were using the exact same form. In New Jersey, there are pre-trial motion forms and post-judgment motion forms for what they label as FM, which means “family matter” cases. It’s important to note that in FV cases, there are different forms because that is a different part of the family court. The “V” is for “violence,” as in domestic violence.

But these can all vary from state to state.

Researching and preparation

When I first dropped my third lawyer, I was extremely overwhelmed. Trying to learn how to be a lawyer on my own from Google… Hopeless is not even the word for the way I felt at that time. However, there were two really helpful things I figured out along the way. The first invaluable thing I learned is what “case law” or precedent is.

Case law, also called “common law,” is a type of law that is based on the decisions of judges in past cases. It is different from laws that are based on constitutions, statutes, or regulations. It uses the specific details of a case that has already been decided by a court or a similar body. We call these decisions “case law” or “precedent.” Case law is different from one place to another, and it is used by courts to settle unique disputes based on the facts of a case. Case law makes sure that the law is consistent throughout, which is why U.S. Supreme Court cases get so much attention. Judges at every level of the court system look at precedents when they hear a case, and lawyers often use case law as part of their arguments in court.

To sum it up, I looked for cases in family law such as divorce, domestic violence, child custody, etc. that were similar to my own (the core issue or issues to resolve had to be the same) that someone with really expensive lawyers fought and won, with the outcome that I wanted. This can, as I notice, actually supersede a statute or other law to make the judge decide or reconsider a decision in my favor. Just make sure you are sure the type of motion you are using is, in fact, the correct one. For this, the United States District guide can be helpful.

Now, these are not exactly easy to find, but for me, they were much easier to find than learning the entire family law in federal and state superior courts. BUT… I found a really slick website that saved my little tuckas. I would literally type in my words what was going on, maybe add an existing ruling that I did not like from the judge into a platform called Ai Lawyer and within seconds, it would spit out precedent and sometimes several cases that I could use, along with the court rules I could use to present the case law to the judge. If you are going to represent yourself, at least click on the blue link back there to check it out. If you do sign up, I’d ask that you use that link so I can make a small commission from it. But try it first for free. It’s amazing, no lie.

The Non-Negotiables for Crafting Your Motion

As I work on filing a motion, there are some crucial elements I need to keep in mind. In this section, I’ll discuss the components of a motion and the importance of ensuring correct legal language.

Writing Requirements:

    • Must be in writing

Content:

    • Clearly state the grounds for your request.
    • Include a “memorandum of points and authorities” detailing:
    • Case facts.
    • Relevant law.
    • Analysis of facts and law.
    • If no memorandum is provided, the court may deny the motion
    • Specify what you’re asking for and the desired order from the judge.

Formalities:

    • Must be signed by you.
    • Include a “notice of motion.”.
    • The court clerk adds the hearing’s date, time, and location.
    • The notice informs the other party of the hearing details.
    • How do I file a motion in Nevada? For Las Vegas Justice Court motions, follow specific language in court rules. Check Rule 22.5 for details.

Evidence:

    • Attach the necessary evidence or affidavits supporting your motion.
    • Evidence can be contracts, photos, emails, etc.
    • Affidavits or declarations can be used to state personal knowledge
    • Discovery responses can also serve as evidence.
    • Discuss evidence in the memorandum, attach to the motion, file with the court, and serve the other party

Additional Information:

    • Different motions have different rules. Ensure you’re familiar with your motion type.
    • TIP: Visit local law libraries for more information, or use AI Lawyer (which I’ll discuss later in this post)

In other words,

When I was drafting motions, I quickly learned there were certain sections I needed to include to make sure they were complete. Who knew legal documents had such complicated rules?

    • First up was the Notice of Motion—a short intro informing the court about why I was requesting they do more work reviewing my issue. I’m sure the judges just loved getting my frequent notices.
    • Then came the Statement of Facts, where I casually listed out the details of my situation and any proof I had from people’s sworn testimonies. I, of course, presented only the selective facts that supported my side.
    • Grounds for the motion, meaning why this is within your right to ask for, are crucial here.
    • After laying out my selective factual storytelling, it was time for the argument section, where I passionately pleaded my case like a dramatic actor, citing statutes and case laws that backed me up. This was my chance to really shine and prove I should get what I want.
    • Finally, I had to include a declaration, or memorandum, which is a fancy way of saying I pinky promised that everything in my motion was 100% true.
    • Then I attached any Exhibits I had, like receipts or emails, even though I noticed the judge didn’t really look at them to try to understand why, so I had to also prepare an
    • Oral argument that explained why I included each one and why they were relevant to my motion, aka why that evidence means he should decide in my favor.

Ensuring Correct Legal Language

I learned after failing miserably with the first motion I wrote that judges really do not like sarcasm and they do not understand jokes. Yeah… I used fancy, shmancy legal language, cut out my usual informality, and was clear, concise, and incredibly dull if I wanted to be taken seriously. It was like writing an essay for a strict English teacher, minus any fun vocabulary. I used the formal setting on my Quillbot (Chrome Extension), and it wasn’t all that bad, but trust me, take the extra step.

It was also crucial for me to actually read through the court rules and laws for my specific case. I know, reading rules and laws voluntarily—what a weirdo! But it helped me craft a stronger argument and handle the lawyer on the opposing side when they interrupted me constantly. I dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s procedurally, which is not easy. But I had no choice. I was literally fighting for my life.

Bonus Tips:

Here are a few basics I learned along my journey, which everyone in court just assumes everyone knows.

  • Plaintiff: I filed for divorce, so I was the Plaintiff
  • Defendant: My ex did not file, so he was the defendant. It helps to remember his annoying repetitive words that he had to defend himself from me.
  • Attorney Field on the Forms: Write “Pro Se”
  • Who Versus Who: Plaintiff goes on top, defendant on bottom.

How to File a Court Motion Without an AttorneyHow to file a motion

Submitting the right paperwork is essential when I’m trying to file a motion in court. First, I check if the court has blank motion forms available. Some courts might provide “check the box” or “fill in the blank” web forms that can be found on the court’s website, or I can contact the clerk of the court, which in NJ has an “ombudsman” in the county superior court where my case was assigned. If the court doesn’t have blank motion forms, I wouldn’t use a form from another state because they can be drastically different, but there are lots of great resources online to help you find your way around the court system.

I live in NJ, so on top of all of the paperwork, it also had to be submitted through a portal they have called JEDS. The first few I filed, I could not figure this thing out, so I printed out numerous copies of everything and dropped them off at the courthouse. This became extremely expensive quickly, so I learned how to use the system. Your state may or may not have an online portal, but you need to call your county or district family court to find out.

If you happen to be in Texas, after I received numerous emails from people like me in Texas, I gathered some information to help them out, which can be found here.

In my motion, it’s important that I clearly state who I am along with the precise relief I am seeking. For example, “I, Jane Doe, the plaintiff in this action, request an extension of time for submitting my evidence.” This helps the court know exactly what I want them to do.

Fees and again… Deadlines

There might be fees associated with filing a motion, so it’s essential for me to ensure I am aware of any costs before submitting my paperwork and each type of motion often has various deadlines for certain actions, such as answering or responding to the opposing party’s answer (aka, the back and forth argument, before the argument in court) Note: Missing a deadline could result in a negative outcome, such as your court date being postponed, cancelled, or the other party’s way of getting out of it because you didn’t follow procedure, aka red tape.

When filing, I make sure to submit my motion to the court clerk and mail a notice of entry of the order to all the parties in the case, with a notarized form from my ex saying he got it. This ensures everyone involved is informed about the motion and allows the opposing party to respond accordingly. By paying close attention to paperwork submission, fees, and deadlines, I was able to finally progress my case in court.

Hearing Dates

After I file my motion, the next step is to find out the hearing date. There is a place to add it on the form, but to be honest, I messed it up every time, so they changed it and sent me a copy of the “Filed” stamp with the correct date of the hearing on it. It’s usually between 27 (but I was wrong) and 35 days from when I filed, and then on top of that, my judge LOVED to delay mine, bumping my hearing to fit someone else in. Nice Right?

The court clerk typically inserts the correct date and time when the motion will be heard by the judge in the documents. Whatever you do, don’t forget the date. That is never good.

Do you respond or reply to a motion?

The Other Party “answers,” and then you can “Respond” To Their Answer (Before the Hearing)

It’s possible that the other side might file a written opposition to my motion. If that happens, I need to be prepared to file a reply in support of my motion with the court. This is my chance to address any arguments they’ve made against my motion and to clarify any points or misunderstandings.

Throughout this process, it’s crucial to stay organized and keep track of all documents, deadlines, and updates. Filing a motion can be a complex process, but by staying on top of the details, I can improve the chances of a favorable outcome for my case.

The Don’ts Of Motions

As someone who wants to file a motion, I’ve come to understand that there are several mistakes people often make that can hurt the chances of their motion being successful.

  • Incorrect Format: When filing a motion, it’s crucial for me to ensure that it’s in the correct format. Failing to follow the formatting guidelines set by the court or jurisdiction can lead to the motion being rejected. To avoid this problem, I always take the time to thoroughly review the requirements listed in the California Code of Civil Procedure, California Rules of Court, and Local Rules. It’s important to keep in mind things like font size, line spacing, and even the correct form to use depending on the type of motion being filed.
  • Missed Deadlines: Another common mistake is missing essential deadlines when submitting court documents and motions. Every court motion carries its own deadline, from filing the initial document to serving the other party, and failing to meet these deadlines can result in denial or dismissal of your motion. In order to avoid missing deadlines, I make a habit of incorporating the use of technology and calendar systems available to make sure I know when each deadline is coming up and allocate enough time to prepare and submit the necessary documents on time. By doing this, I lower the risk of making motion-ending errors and increase the likelihood of my motion being successful.
  • Not Adding the Certification: This is the form, along with proof that the other side received a copy of the document. You can hand deliver this, send certified mail with a receipt, or pay for a service, but I couldn’t afford that. I have gotten bumped for this twice because the email receipt was not enough.
  • Emergent Application For Anything Involving Money: We didn’t go into this, but there were several times I filed an emergency motion, or Order To Show Cause, with an Emergent Application (the formal name of it is different everywhere). These are in case of emergency motions, like getting evicted tomorrow morning (really, if it’s next week, they probably would deny it) or my child was in direct harm and I can prove it, something OTHER than anything that has to do with money. I filed one because me and my kids health insurance was lapsing from his nonpayment, which I had been paying but I couldn’t afford it anymore, but they denied it because it had to do with money. So my kids and I went without insurance for 6 months in a pandemic, when my son is high-risk. Great, right? There were several other scenarios, but they didn’t care about any of them. They denied every single one of them and let us suffer. But this was my experience; that’s all I can speak to. I am not a lawyer.

Conclusion

We made it to the end of this behemoth guide on filing motions! My brain is fried after sharing all my teachings, but I hope yours is bursting with new motion knowledge.

Let’s recap the key details: Motions don’t have to be scary if you put in the time to understand them.

Research the crap out of which motion fits your case and craft a solid argument (shoutout to my bestie, Ai Lawyer!).

Dot those i’s and cross those t’s procedure-wise, or risk getting shut down.

Most importantly, take a chill pill through the process! Stress makes relying on yourself in court way worse. Remind yourself that we non-lawyers can totally figure this out. Arm yourself with resources, advice, and snack breaks as needed.

So in conclusion, you got this! Don’t let the legal system intimidate you. With the right prep, patience, and a dash of faith in yourself, filing motions can be draining but doable. We’re all rooting for you! Now go kick some legal butt!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.cand.uscourts.gov/wp-content/uploads/pro-se/legal-help-center-templates-and-packets/Motion-Packet-General-2017.pdf
  2. https://www.kywd.uscourts.gov/sites/kywd/files/court_docs/Instructions_for_Filing_a_Motion.pdf
  3. https://www.civillawselfhelpcenter.org/self-help/lawsuits-for-money/pre-trial-stage-filing-and-opposing-motions/246-filing-motions-to-resolve-the-case-or-narrow-issues

 

 

 

(Disclaimer: In case we’ve never met, hi, I’m DubG. Now, before you start thinking I’m some kind of courtroom wizard, let’s clear the air: I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a pro-se warrior who’s battled in the legal arena without a law degree. After three attorneys, $300,000 in debt, and a process that took five years, I ended up representing myself in my divorce for my entire nine-day trial (which spanned nine months) due to complete exhaustion of funds, patience, and sanity. What you’ll read here is all from my own playbook-lessons learned, mistakes made, and a whole lot of BS navigated. But remember, I’m not giving legal advice; I’m just sharing my own twisted journey through the legal system.)