United States: Family Court –Unique Rules For A Court of Special Jurisdiction

Last Updated: November 10 2014
Article by Leslie B. Spoltore

The Family Court Rules of Civil Procedure are similar to those of the Superior Court and the Court of Common Pleas. However, due to the specialized jurisdiction of the Family Court, the Rules are not identical. Take for example, Rule 56 regarding motions for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment should be granted when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. They are filed, briefed and decided before a trial. If the motion is granted it may resolve the case in its entirety. If the motion is not granted, the case will proceed to trial.

Under the Rules of the other trial courts, there are no special conditions restricting a party's ability to file a motion seeking summary judgment. A brief review of the Delaware State Court Opinion page shows that motions of this type are not a not unusal.

In Family Court, however, they are virtually unheard of. Consider Family Court Rule 56, which provides:

While it may be desirable to dispose of proceedings by way of summary judgment, the Court is mindful that litigants are often unrepresented, and, even where there is representation, summary judgment proceedings may in fact delay resolution of litigation; therefore, a motion for summary judgment shall not be filed without Court order following a motion therefor. No motion for summary judgment shall be filed unless accompanied by a stipulated set of facts executed by counsel or, in the case of an unrepresented party, by the party. (emphasis added)

The Rule clearly expresses Family Court's concern about how these potentially dispositive pretrial motions might impact the large number of pro se litigants, and the fact that the motion process itself could delay resolution of the matters heard by the Court. In response to these considerations the Rule restricts the filing of motions for summary judgment. Unlike the other trial courts, Family Court requires litigants to obtain the permission before filing a motion for summary judgment. In addition, the motion for summary judgment may not be filed unless the parties agree on and sign a stipulated set of facts. It is not hard to image how difficult it is to get family members involved in litigation to agree upon the facts of the case. With these resrictions, motions for summary judgment are rarely seen in Family Court.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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