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Obtaining Additional Time for a Family Law Hearing: What You Need to Know

Categories: Family Law, Article

how time plays into family law hearings

The Facts

In Reyes v. Neill 1, Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether the Court abused its discretion by failing to permit adequate time for the parties to present testimony and cross-examine witnesses at an evidentiary hearing. The opinion is a memorandum decision and is therefore not precedential; however, it may be cited for persuasive value subject to various limitations 2.

Paul Nelson and Michael Reyes were fathers of children who were born to Desaray Neill (“The Mother”). Both fathers filed to establish paternity. The maternal grandmother, Donna Neill (“The Grandmother”), intervened in the proceedings seeking visitation with the children. The trial court consolidated the two proceedings and scheduled a three-hour hearing on The Grandmother’s petition.

The hearing was conducted at which The Grandmother testified, introduced 16 exhibits into evidence, and presented testimony from two witnesses.  After the hearing, the court issued a minute entry denying The Grandmother’s petition for visitation and awarding attorney fees in favor of The Mother.

The Grandmother filed an appeal arguing that:

  1. Given the time limits imposed by the trial court, she did not have sufficient time to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.  She was scheduled for just a three hour hearing; and 
  2. The court abused its discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees to The Mother.

The Appellate Court considered both the time and attorney fee award as follows: 

  1. Sufficient Time:  As to the issue of sufficient time to present evidence and cross- examine witnesses, the Court of Appeals confirmed that the trial court enjoys broad discretion to impose reasonable time limits on all proceedings. The Court recognized that The Grandmother had testified and presented evidence in support of her position but did not prevail because:
    1. Despite the trial court’s minute entry directing litigants to file a motion to extend the time of trial if more time was necessary, The Grandmother failed to seek additional time prior to the hearing.
    2. The Grandmother failed to provide transcripts of the hearing to the Appellate Court. As a result, the Court of Appeals could not determine whether the trial court’s allocation of time limited her ability to present her case.
  2. Attorneys’ Fees: The trial court granted The Mother’s request for attorneys’ fees on March 2, 2016 and The Grandmother did not file an appeal from the March 2, 2016 order. Therefore, The Court of Appeals found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal from the award of attorneys’ fees. 

The Takeaway

There are several lessons to be learned from this decision. Firstly, as to the issue of obtaining additional time for a hearing, it is critical to request additional time if you believe it will be necessary. Without doing so, you may have waived your right. Secondly, identify for the court how the lack of additional time prejudiced your ability to adequately present your case. Finally, be sure to provide transcripts to the Appellate Court—success is unlikely without transcripts. 


About the author: Mervyn Braude is a family law attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He is a certified family law specialist by the State Bar of Arizona.