How to Ask for Help From the Court
A request for order, or as it is regularly referred to in a family law courthouse, an RFO, is simply an appointment to see the judge wherein the parties ask the judge to make certain orders. An RFO can be filed either before or after a the family law trial (i.e. trial in a paternity suit, divorce, or even a guardianship). Before the RFO each party files court papers telling the judge his or her side of the case and indicating what orders he or she thinks should be ordered. At the RFO each party has the ability to add any new information, answer questions from the judge, put on testimony, and describe to the court how he/she believes the law applies to his/her case. The judge in the divorce or paternity matter then makes a ruling, which is binding upon both parties.
If an Order to Show Cause is filed before the divorce or paternity trial date, it is called a temporary order. That order is only good until the divorce or paternity trial. At an RFO which occurs before the parties' trial date, the court only has the power to address certain issues. These are issues that are too important to wait until the trial. The kinds of orders the divorce or paternity judge will make before a trial date are orders for temporary custody and visitation , orders for temporary child support and spousal support (also called alimony) and only available in a divorce proceeding), orders for attorney fees, orders to sell the house, or temporary orders when domestic violence is involved. These temporary orders dissolve on the trial date. The person filing the Order to Show Cause almost always has the burden of proof.
After the divorce or paternity trial, the parties can return to court by filing a new Request for Order. If an RFO is filed after a trial, it is called a request for a modification. The types of things a court will hear after a trial date include requests to modify child custody or child support, a request to change spousal support, a request to enforce a court order, and sometimes a request to divide property that was not previously divided at the divorce trial (property cannot be divided in a paternity suit).
As a rule of thumb, it takes approximately six weeks to get into court once a party files an Request for Order. However, there are mechanisms by which a party can appear in court sooner. This is done by filing an ex parte application. An ex parte is the filing of paperwork in which one party asks the court to make immediate, temporary orders for an important issue involving some sort of danger. Ex parte applications almost always involve either domestic violence or a request for temporary custody of the parties' child which contain an allegation the child is in immediate danger.
If the court agrees the child would be in great danger the court will make orders protecting the child. Those orders would only be good a few weeks, at which time both parents would be given the opportunity to present evidence as to what is the best interest of the child. After listening to all the evidence presented, the court will then make orders concerning custody and visitation.