When a party wishes for a court to take action on a legal issue, he or she typically needs to file a motion. Simply put, a motion is a written request asking the court to take a specific action. Usually, a judge has the option of granting or denying the motion based on its written contents alone. In some circumstances, however, a motion hearing is held. A motion hearing is a proceeding in which each party has the opportunity to present his or her side of the issue in court.
A motion hearing is normally requested by one of the parties to the lawsuit. Alternatively, the judge may call the hearing on his or her own initiative. At a typical motion hearing, each party's lawyer is given the chance to present factual evidence and legal arguments in support of his or her client's position.
Motion hearings are typically more limited in scope than trials. Although a hearing often includes the presentation of oral testimony, the judge is generally given discretion to limit - or even deny altogether - oral testimony by witnesses or parties to the suit. During the hearing, the judge may ask questions about the factual and legal issues at hand. After listening to all of the testimony and weighing any written documentation submitted in support of, or in opposition to, the motion, the judge usually issues an order.
Motion hearings can be helpful in both criminal cases and civil lawsuits. They are often used to resolve preliminary issues before a trial begins, such as the suppression of evidence in a criminal case. Additionally, they may be used to resolve matters temporarily while a case is underway. For example, in a divorce proceeding, a motion hearing may be held to determine temporary child custody and child support arrangements. After trial, a motion hearing may be granted if a party asks a court to modify or enforce a judgment.
If a party to a suit files a motion for summary judgment, he or she may ask for a hearing. In a summary judgment motion, the requesting party ordinarily asks the court to make a decision before the trial takes place, based only on the facts set forth in each party’s pleadings. Courts generally agree to grant summary judgment motions if the facts in a case are not in dispute and only questions of law are at issue. Another type of hearing, called a motion to dismiss hearing, is ordinarily requested when one party believes the other party has failed to state a cause of action for which relief can be granted.