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Court Basics

In the courtroom

Judge: A former lawyer or trained magistrate judge with experience in many different areas of law will be the neutral listener in your case. He or she will direct your case as it proceeds through the legal system and make decisions based on information you provide and on the law.

Clerk of the court: The clerk and his or her staff are your first point of contact. Clerks of court maintain records of all documents filed with the court and of court proceedings. They also collect various fees, fines, and forfeitures. They can tell you where to get court-approved forms and written instructions. They cannot give legal advice.

Attorney: A person who has specialized training and a license to practice law. He or she acts as an advocate and can give advice to the individual he or she represents.

Petitioner or plaintiff: The person starting the case with the court. This person files the paperwork that begins the case.

Respondent or defendant: The person responding to the case started by the petitioner.

Rules and procedures: There are Supreme Court Rules for district courts, and individual district courts may have their own local rules. Some procedures are required by statute (Kansas law). 

Criminal or civil: Criminal cases can result in a punishment that includes jail or prison time. Civil cases involve paying fines or damages to the other party and sometimes specific behavior restrictions as punishment, such as being ordered to perform or not perform a certain act in the future. Different rules and procedures govern criminal and civil cases.

Courtroom behavior: Be responsible! Comply with the following:

  • Arrive on time.

  • Wear clean and appropriate clothing.

  • Be polite to the judge and other party. Don't interrupt.

  • Be calm and logical. Don't yell or object on the grounds that the other side is lying.

  • Speak only when asked to. Don't talk unless the judge instructs you to do so.

  • Be prepared. Have your witnesses and paperwork ready.


Requesting forms

The clerk of the court in your county may have forms and information you need to begin a court case. Go there first. 

  • Fill out forms completely. 

  • File your petition with the clerk of the court office in your county.

  • Answer all questions on forms with specific information. Include dates, times, and a clear description of events.

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Service of process

In most cases, you must "serve" or deliver the papers you filed with the court to the other party. Usually, people choose to use the sheriff's department of the county in which the other party lives to serve process. 

After the defendant or respondent has been served, he or she generally has 20 days to respond by filing an "answer" with the clerk of court. This "answer" explains where the respondent disagrees with the petition filed against him or her.


Domestic temporary orders 

People usually come to an agreement on temporary arrangements on their own while the case is pending.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement on temporary arrangements, a party must file the forms for a temporary order and request a hearing at which the judge will decide what arrangements will be in place until the case is over.


Discovery and investigation

Negotiation: If the parties do not agree on all of the issues in the case, the court may order the parties to go to mediation.

Investigation and use of experts: This is the time to gather evidence about your case and the other side's position. The court may order an expert appointed to your case.

Mediation: A neutral third party who is not involved in ANY part of the case listens to both sides and helps the parties reach an agreement or settlement. The judge may order mediation, or the parties themselves may request mediation, to work out their differences without long, costly court proceedings.


Settlement or trial

Settlement: Most cases reach a settlement, or agreement, through compromise and common sense. Otherwise, parties may spend a lot of time and money fighting their case in court.

Trial: This is when parties bring their evidence into court for the judge or jury to consider. A trial consists of four parts:

  • Opening statement: You tell the judge or jury briefly what your case is about and what you are asking for. Be brief. This is not the time for opinions or arguments.

  • Direct examinations: This is where your witnesses give testimony. Ask witnesses clear and direct questions, one at a time, and ask questions that help bring out the facts you want the judge or jury to hear.

  • Cross-examinations: This is when you question the other party's witnesses. Ask short, clear questions. Do not argue with, yell at, or harass the witness. Your goal is to ask questions that will get answers that point out inconsistencies in the other side's story.

  • Objection: This is the process by which one party takes exception to some statement or procedure. An objection is either sustained (the judge agrees with the objection) or overruled by the judge.

  • Closing argument: This is your last chance to speak to the court. Give your opinion about the case using an argument based on the evidence presented.


Judgment or decision point

After considering all the evidence, a judge or jury will come to a decision. The decision, or judgment, will explain how the case should be resolved. This can include:

  • Payment/collection of money: One party may be ordered to pay the other party a specified amount of money. It is not the responsibility of the court to collect the money. The party awarded the money is responsible for collection. The court system has specific processes to help collect judgments.

  • Assignment of responsibilities: The court may assign certain responsibilities to one or both parties, including what behavior isn't allowed in the future.

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