Most pro se litigants are knocked out early in a case – somewhere between the complaint and answer. If you survive these stages, your journey might be one of steep hills, thunderstorms, and alligator swamps at one point, lengthy periods of no record activity at another, and a dash downhill as if on speed in a third. If yours is starting to feel like the dash downhill, you can put the brakes on it with a motion for either continuance or extension of time.
Indeed, there are many ways to delay a case, including lengthy discovery, striking notices of hearing, and so on. When none of these are appropriate, and you have a good reason for postponing or delaying a court procedure, move for a continuance or extension of time.
A Motion for Extension of Time requests that the court grant you additional time to complete a specific act. This is frequently the case at the onset of a court action – often before a first hearing. You might request an extension of time to answer a complaint or file a specific document.
In contrast, a request or Motion for Continuance is a document you might file at any time but at least a week ahead of a trial. Either side in a civil case might request a continuance after a hearing. It is one of the reasons some cases take longer to resolve than the parties had anticipated.
Good Reasons for a Continuance or Extension of Time
If you cannot comply with a court’s timeline, you need to show a good cause for your inability to do so. An extension of time or continuance may be granted if you can demonstrate that you haven’t had sufficient time to prepare for the action the court needs you to take. This could be due to your pro se status. Then again, it might be because the other side is peppering you with extensive requests for discovery that take longer to complete than the court ordinarily apportions.
Sample reasons you might need a continuance or extension of time
- You need to be away on business.
- Your key witness is out of town.
- Your opponent served you surprise discovery requests that take time to respond to.
- You were not served enough days before the hearing.
- You’re pro se and need more time to prepare.
- You need time to find a lawyer. (You can use this even if you don’t eventually find one)
- You have a physical or learning disability.
- English is not your first language, and you need time to understand the papers or time to find someone to translate them for you.
- You live in another state, and are unable to travel due to weather conditions.
Preparing and Filing Motions For Continuance or Extension of Time
You can postpone your case with a formal motion or a simple request (i.e. Plaintiff’s Request for Continuance). Include all essential information in a request that you would put in a motion. This should include upcoming scheduled hearings or due dates for written responses. Be as detailed as possible. When you ask for an extension of time, go for 30 days rather than ten. A court does not like to deal with multiple extension requests. So, it’s best to ask for as much time as possible at the onset.
Next, show the court that you made every reasonable effort to meet its timeline. You don’t have to make every effort. It just has to be reasonable. For example, trying to ferret out an expert witness’ summer home address to serve them is not reasonable. Instead, you can say that you made a reasonable effort by attempting service at their place of business.
Be sure to include a new suggested date.
The Upside of Asking for More Time
One advantage of additional time is that it allows for more opportunities to prepare. You might use the time to consult with experts or find witnesses who strengthen your case. In the case of an extension of time, getting a pleading or motion right the first time is important. So, the more chances you have for researching, reviewing and revising, the better your pleading will be.
Too, you have less of a chance to find good case law if you’re squeezed for time. The inclusion of case law in your response can result in more persuasive arguments. That is, the judge is more likely to rule in your favor when you have case law in your motions than when you don’t.
Finally, asking for additional time could enable you to try to resolve the case through settlement. You or the other side might be more interested in settling than going to trial. Therefore, getting a continuance or extension of time could allow you added negotiation and settlement talk time.
The Downside of Delaying Your Case
Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream. Some judges may frown on parties who ask for numerous continuances and extensions of time. Moreover, if you’re dealing with time-sensitive issues, the delay could be harmful to your case as it might render certain aspects moot.
Also, your opponent can object to the delay. If they do so, and if they have success, you will have to go forward with your case even if you’re not ready. The court might deny your request for other reasons. For example, if the judge feels that extending the time or continuing a hearing would be detrimental for any party in the case, they may rule against you.
Therefore, it pays to be prepared for going forward – even if you file a motion that you hope will delay your case.
Litigation is a slow process – until it’s not. When you don’t feel you have enough time to prepare for or attend a hearing or to meet a filing deadline, move for a delay with either a motion for continuance or extension of time.
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