Litigation of a North Carolina Family Law case is often a time-consuming process that can take months, or even years, to resolve. Much of the delay in finalizing a case can be attributed to the lengthy wait to be assigned a trial date. In Mecklenburg County, it is not uncommon for custody and equitable distribution trials to wait a full year before being placed on a court docket to select a trial date and time.
The North Carolina Family Court is a “one judge, one family” court so the same judge will hear all family law issues related to a claim. Family Law cases require a great deal of time and attention from the Court and there simply is not enough court personnel to handle the number of family law actions filed each year. As a result, North Carolina family law cases may have a significant period of waiting until reaching the courtroom to argue the respective merits.
Nowhere is the bottleneck of family law cases more present than at a Calendar Call, which is the scheduling conference conducted once a case is placed on the “trial calendar”. During a Calendar Call, the Court offers its available trial dates and times during that period’s four-to-five week trial term and the parties and attorneys request time for a trial on one or more issues. There are often more than 40 cases identified for each Calendar Call and with only a few weeks to schedule trials, there inevitably are only a fraction of those 40+ cases that are scheduled. If a case cannot locate available court time, it is “rolled over” or continued until the next trial term. It is not uncommon to have a case continued to the next trial term on more than one occasion due to lack of room on the calendar in the prior term.
Fortunately, there is a mechanism for parties to request that their case be moved to the front of the Calendar Call line. Depending on the county, parties may file a Request for Peremptory Setting, which is a formal request that the Court move a case to the front of the line for scheduling. If a Request for Peremptory Setting is granted, the Court will schedule that case before all other cases, almost guaranteeing that a case will be heard within a given trial term. However, while the prospect of moving to the front of the line is enticing to all litigants, peremptory setting is not available to just any case. In Mecklenburg County, parties may only request and be granted peremptory status in certain scenarios, which include:
(a) It is impossible or impractical for a witness or litigant to appear
for the trial except by air travel;
(b) The case involves numerous expert witnesses;
(c) The case is a custody or visitation action which the best interest of the Children requires be resolved promptly;
(d) Severe adverse economic consequences will result from delay of trial; or
(e) The case has been repeatedly scheduled for trial without being tried.”
This high threshold ensures that peremptory status is reserved for those most in need of the expedient resolution of their case. Further, if everyone were able to have their case peremptorily set, the issues with case backlogs would persist.
If the Court does not find good cause exists to grant a Peremptory Setting Request, the case remains on the Calendar Call list and moves up as cases listed before it are scheduled for trial or otherwise do not need court time.
If you have any questions about the trial process for North Carolina Family Law cases or need help with your pending case, please call us today at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a consultation.