A judgment is the court’s final decision on your case. It is a kind of court order. There are two ways to get a judgment.
- At the end of your case, you can work out an agreement with the other person and ask the judge to approve it. If the judge approves it, she usually includes the agreement in the judgment. That means that the judgment orders you and the other party to obey the agreement.
- If you have not worked out an agreement, the court will schedule a "pre-trial" conference or trial date.
The Probate and Family Court has a process for moving things along so that cases get to a final decision. A trial is a final hearing. You will be able to speak to the judge, testify and present evidence. The judge will then write a judgment.
You may have to go to court more than once before you get a judgment, at the final hearing:
- There are motion hearings, so the judge can make some decisions that must be made while you wait for the whole case to be decided,
- Case Management Conferences and
- Pre-Trial Conferences.
What is a Case Management Conference?
At a Case Management Conference the judge will speak to you about your case. The judge can hear the case and grant a Judgment if:
- the defendant has not filed an Answer, or
- you and the other party have "settled" your case and the judge approves. "Settling" means that the two of you have agreed in writing about all the things that must be decided.
If the court does not grant a final judgment at the Case Management Conference, the court will assign the next court date. The next court date could be either a Pre-Trial Conference or a trial date.
You can ask for a Case Management Conference or a Pre-Trial Conference after you have served the complaint. When you ask for a Case Management Conference you have to notify the other party.
What happens at a Pre-Trial Conference?
If the court has scheduled a Pre-Trial Conference, the court will send you a letter called a Pre-trial Notice and Order (also called a Pre-Trial Notice and Memorandum). The Pre-trial Notice and Order tells you the date of the pre-trial conference and the things that you need to do before the conference. Read the Pre-trial Notice and Order very carefully and do everything that it tells you to do. It is an "order" of the court.
Before the date of the Pre-Trial Conference, you must
- write a "Pre-Trial Memorandum"
- file it with the court and
- send it to the other person.
The Pre-Trial Memorandum is a list of decisions that you want the court to make at the trial. Some courts want you to write a Joint Pre-Trial Memorandum with the other person to show that you agree on what needs to be decided at the trial. Other courts want you to submit Affidavits (sworn, written statements) from the witnesses who will testify for you at the trial. In some courts, if you and the person you are taking to court are the only witnesses, you may be able to have the trial on the same day as the pre-trial conference.
Not all judges handle pre-trial conferences the same way. Ask the court clerk or a local lawyer what to expect. Usually you and the person you are taking to court meet with a judge, a mediator, or someone else on the court staff. You all talk and try to figure out what issues the court needs to decide at the trial and how long the trial will take. You should know who you plan to use as witnesses at the trial, and what they will say.
People often settle their cases at the Pre-Trial Conference. This means that they work out an agreement and the court turns the agreement into a judgment.
If you do not work out an agreement at the Pre-Trial Conference, the court will make an Order After Pre-Trial Conference which tells you what to do next and what happens next.
Later, if you need to ask the court to change its judgment, you would file a Complaint for Modification. You might need to file a Complaint for Modification to ask the court to change the judgment about custody, parenting time, visitation, or child support. The reason for the change must be very important like you or your child's other parent plans to move away or one of you loses your job or gets a better one.
If you need to change a judgment, you have to go back to court and file a Complaint for Modification.
Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated August 2015