Understanding “First Appearance” in Divorce

The filing of a Petition for Divorce triggers several deadlines and obligations.  These deadlines and obligations are explained in the packet of service paperwork that the non-filing party will receive at the outset of litigation.  One such obligation, applicable to all parents of minor children, is attendance at the First Appearance session. 

Parties are required to attend a seminar, known as the “First Appearance,” in all cases involving minor children.  As indicated by its name, the First Appearance is the very first court event and will be scheduled before any other hearings or events, unless emergency circumstances dictate otherwise.  The First Appearance is an hour-long informational seminar conducted by a judge to explain the court process and settlement options.  The seminars are attended by many people, sometimes dozens of people, who filed a divorce or parenting action in the preceding weeks or month.  The First Appearance is not case-specific and the court will not seek or hear any evidence relating to a specific case.  The parties do not need to bring or file any documents.  No substantive orders will be issued.  The seminar is purely educational in nature. 

Except in cases where a restraining order has been issued, both parties typically attend the same First Appearance.  There is no requirement that the parties sit with or near each other.  Since the First Appearance does not have any bearing on the outcome of a case and is strictly educational in nature, it is not necessary for counsel to attend the First Appearance conference.  Counsel can attend, if a client desires, but generally parties attend without counsel.         

At the conclusion of a First Appearance seminar, a case manager will schedule the next event in the case.  The next event may be a case manager conference, mediation, scheduling conference or temporary hearing.  While a case manager may ask questions relating to a case, such questions are for scheduling purposes only.  The case manager does not report case specific information to the judge, does not have authority to enter any orders in the case and does not have the ability to influence the outcome of future litigation between the parties. 

For further information about First Appearance, including a video example of such a session, click here: https://www.courts.state.nh.us/fdpp/divorce_parenting.htm


About the Author: Margaret Kerouac https://orr-reno.com/our-people/margaret-r-kerouac/


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