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When Will the Judge Make a Ruling in my Case?

This question comes up all the time. The short answer is that the judge makes a decision in your case whenever he or she makes a decision in your case. Attorneys don’t have the authority to push judges to make decisions in cases. The judges are in control of what happens in court, which includes the time it takes to do things. After a trial, the judge makes a decision on what is disputed in your case, which is called a ruling. Then an order is written, signed by the judge and entered by the clerk of court by an ink stamp that includes the date, making it legally effective. The order is entered (i.e., it is official) as of the date that is stamped on the front of it by the clerk of court.

In the Beginning

During your trial, also called a hearing, the judge probably took notes and/or admitted trial exhibits into evidence. Typical evidence in a child support case for a self-employed person includes three years’ worth of personal and corporate tax returns, bank records, credit card statements and other documents that prove what the monthly business and personal expenses. Then, consider the stack of evidence the judge has from all of the trials that particular week or two, and you can begin to understand why the judge’s ruling may take so long. After the trial is over, the judge will also need to review his or her notes and sometimes obtain a recording of the trial if it was complex or if enough time has passed that it is no longer fresh in the judge’s mind.

Behind the Scenes

The judge’s day job is to sit in court listing to trials, which leaves only limited free time to work on a ruling in your case. Judges have a few random days of office time that is scheduled, but not many. Often, the free time a judge might have to work on your case is when some other case that was scheduled for a trial settles or gets continued to a later date. If a two-day trial was scheduled and the parties sign an agreement three hours into it, the rest of the two days might be available to work on your case. Or, the rest of that time might be used to hear a trial that had been scheduled on the waiting list as a “backup” case so no court time is wasted. There is a severe shortage of judges, and the state (and funding) prioritizes court time for judges over office time.

When the Magic Happens

After spending the time to thoroughly review the evidence, the next task for the judge is making a ruling in your case. This phase might involve numerous math calculations. In an alimony cases, or in child support cases if a parent is self-employed, the judge is required to decide whether each party’s living expenses are reasonable, line by line, using each party’s detailed budget. If a particular expense is unreasonable, the judge must decide a reasonable amount that will be used to calculate the amount of alimony to be paid. After making the decision for each line item of living expenses, each must then be written into the order.

Deadlines: Local Rules

In Pitt County, we have local rules concerning the procedural matters in family law cases. In Pitt County, the rules give judges deadlines of 14 to 45 days to make their decision and enter an order, depending on what type of case is involved. Like most things, the written rules yield to what happens in real life, such as unscheduled emergency cases that demand a judge’s attention.

The Wrap-up: Enter the Order

After judge makes up his or her mind by making a ruling, the second obligation of the judge is to enter an order. Some judges assign the task of writing the order to one of the attorneys. Particularly when he or she is undecided, a judge will occasionally tell both of the attorneys to submit a proposed order. That way, the judge will have the ability to create a good order that takes the best parts of each attorney’s proposed order. The other alternative is for the judge to write the order, enter it and send it to the attorneys.

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