Requesting a Continuance for Court (Sample Letter)
File a Request for Continuance in Small Claims or Bankruptcy Court
Millions of Americans face credit-related or property-related civil lawsuits every year. While some will require the services of an attorney, those facing time in small claims court often elect to represent themselves. Self-representation in minor financial settlements can be a good way to save money, but what should you do if you can’t appear when you are ordered to?
Scheduling conflicts are common for small claims defendants and plaintiffs alike. If you have been issued a subpoena for a court time or date that you can’t possibly attend, you won’t need the expensive services of an attorney to reschedule. Filing a request for continuance on your own behalf is simple, fast, and easy.
Steps to Requesting a Continuance
1. Have a Good Reason
The first thing you will need to request a continuance is a valid reason. This reason could be scheduling conflicts or the inability to acquire necessary documents before the assigned date. You will be required to explain your reason in your request. Make certain you cannot resolve the scheduling conflict on your own before requesting a continuance.
The court will ultimately decide whether or not your request will be granted based on the reason you have provided. Scheduling conflicts can be a valid reason to issue a continuance. However, the judge must agree that you are not able to reschedule the event that conflicts with your court date.
Examples of valid life events include:
- serious illness,
- a death in your family,
- previously scheduled court appearances,
- final exams in a formal education setting,
- or a major work event.
Examples of invalid reasons would include:
- a routine work schedule,
- leisure trips,
- or child care.
For your own sake, never request a continuance unless you are certain rescheduling your own schedule is impossible. You may find that acquiring a first continuance is not difficult, however, the court will likely be less accommodating for subsequent requests. Also, wasting the court’s time will not win you any friends when you finally arrive to defend yourself.
The information you require to file a Request for Continuance, including your docket number, can be found on the original subpoena that was issued to you. If you no longer have access to that document, the information can be accessed through the court clerk.
2. Serve the Request
In addition to submitting your request to the court, you must also deliver a copy of your request (by mail or courier) to the Plaintiff or their representative. The appropriate name and address will be contained within the subpoena that notified you of the hearing date.
It is not necessary to have this request witnessed. However, you may choose to request delivery confirmation when mailing the copy to the Plaintiff or their representative.
3. File a Proof of Service
Not only do you need to inform the Plaintiff of your request to continue the hearing, but you'll also need to let the court know that you did so. In most cases, you will file the Proof of Service along with the request. In fact, some courts will not accept the request unless a Proof of Service is filed concurrently with the request.
Sample Letter for a Court Continuance
This is the basic format for a letter to the court requesting a continuance:
Request for Continuance
TO: Clerk of (Name of court)
(Court address line 1)
(Court address line 2)
FROM: (Your name), Defendant (your title, if applicable)
(Your address line 1)
(Your address line 2)
DOCKET# (The docket number exactly as it appears on your subpoena)
I am submitting this Request for Continuance as the Defendant in the small claims case named above. The Court has issued a hearing date of (hearing date as it appears on your subpoena) at (exact time as it appears on your subpoena) in Department (department number as it appears on your subpoena).
(Provide your reason. Example: I am a full-time student at University College and I have final exams scheduled for that day and time.) I am requesting a continuance until after (provide a date when your scheduling issue will be resolved), when this scheduling conflict will be resolved.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
(Your name, printed)
cc: (The name of the Plaintiff’s representative, if applicable), representing (the Plaintiff’s name), Plaintiff
The rules and procedures regarding requesting a continuance can vary depending on state and local rules. Many courthouses have help centers designed to assist those who are self-represented. If you are uncertain about how to properly continue your court date, check your local courthouse for one of these offices.
How to Continue a Hearing in Family Law Court
People can go to family law court for a variety of reasons, such as:
- settling property issues in divorce cases,
- disputing custody schedules,
- or determining proper spousal or child support arrangements.
Particularly in family law matters, hearings can be continued via stipulation. This means both parties sign an agreement to continue the hearing to a specific date. This request is then reviewed and signed by the judge, and filed by the court.
You are not guaranteed the requested court date, but often judges will accommodate these requests if you stipulate to dates that are far enough in advance on dates when the department in question is in session. (For example, some departments aren't open on Fridays, so stipulating to continue a hearing to a Friday would be unsuccessful.)
A stipulation is most often used to continue a hearing when both parties are represented by an attorney.
Reasons the continuation would be granted include:
- One of the attorneys had a scheduling conflict, such as an ex parte (emergency) hearing in another county.
- The parties have decided to wait to go before the judge (because they were waiting for the results of a home appraisal or custody evaluation, for example).
- The parties have agreed to continue mediating before presenting their cases in front of a judge.
If the parties can come to an agreement before the next hearing date, they can then drop the hearing date.
Verbal Request for Continuance
Another way to continue a hearing is to make a verbal request to the judge, which usually occurs at the beginning of the court session. Obviously, this will only work if you are able to physically attend the hearing, at least briefly.