General: Requesting a Continuance
Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina
When a party to a lawsuit needs to postpone a matter that has a legal deadline or that has been calendared for a hearing or trial, the proper procedure is to apply to the court for a continuance (postponement to a later date).
A request for a continuance can be written or oral depending on the circumstances. Many times, requests for continuances are made in open court at the beginning of the session.
When the name of the case is called you should stand up and identify yourself: "Your honor, I am ______. I am the defendant (or the plaintiff) in this case. I would like to request a continuance". Then be ready to tell the court, when asked, why you need for the matter to be continued.
The granting of a continuance is in the sole discretion of the trial judge. Although continuances are not favored, a continuance may be granted if the requesting party is able to show that he or she is acting in good faith and has not neglected his responsibilities toward the court.
The court will balance the need for the continuance with any potential prejudice to the opposing side if the continuance is granted. If the opposing side can show that a continuance will harm them, the court may deny the continuance.
Example: In a custody hearing, the plaintiff has had no visitation with his son. The defendant wants to request a continuance of 4 weeks. A continuance of 4 weeks means that the plaintiff may not see his son for four more weeks. The court may grant the continuance if an agreement can be reached allowing the plaintiff time to see his son in the period of time before the trial.
Ordinarily, the illness of a party or a witness may be sufficient grounds to continue a case. If you are requesting a continuance because of sickness, be prepared to show the court a statement from your treating physician, on the physician’s letterhead, certifying the illness or health condition and the need to continue the matter.
A common claim for a continuance is the need of time to get a lawyer. If the case has been in litigation for some time or if a continuance has been granted before, the court may deny the request.
When requesting a continuance to get a lawyer, it is important to show to the court the efforts made to get a lawyer. Be prepared to tell the court the names of attorneys contacted. If you have an appointment scheduled with an attorney, give the court the name of the attorney.
Often the court will grant a continuance for a specific period of time and will ask the parties or their lawyers the amount of time needed. Be prepared to suggest to the court the period of time needed. If you are granted continuance because of illness ask your doctor the period of time you need for recovery. If the continuance is granted because you need more time to get a lawyer, ask the court for a reasonable time.
To find other Legal Aid of North Carolina materials, including any materials mentioned in this document, go to http://www.lawhelpnc.org/. If you need legal help please go to http://www.legalaidnc.org/.