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Preparing for Your Contested Hearing

You should start preparing for your hearing as soon as possible. You will need to:  

  1. Ask people who witnessed important events to come to your hearing to testify. 
  2. Gather evidence, including texts, photos, and audio or video recordings, that relate to the issues in your case. 
  3. Prepare questions for your witnesses.  
  4. Organize your evidence, label each piece of evidence with an exhibit sticker, and make copies for the judge, the other person, and yourself.
  5. Write notes or create an outline to help you organize your testimony.
  6. Optional: write an opening statement.
  7. Optional: write a closing argument.

These tasks will be explained more in the questions below.

  • Contested hearing: A court date where both sides of a restraining order case talk to the judge. A contested hearing may happen at a courthouse or remote (by phone or video).  Both sides get to present evidence and make arguments to a judge at a contested hearing. 
  • Petitioner: The person who applies for a restraining order.   
  • Respondent: The person the Petitioner wants to be protected from. 
  • Witness: A person who gives information to a judge at a court hearing. The Petitioner and Respondent can be witnesses in their own case.  
  • Testimony: The spoken information that a witness gives to a judge during a court hearing.  
  • Evidence: Any information given to a judge during a contested hearing. Evidence includes witness testimony as well as other types of evidence like text messages, photos, videos, etc.

Anyone who personally saw or heard important events in your case can be a witness. Witnesses in restraining order cases often include:  

  • You; 
  • Friends; 
  • Family members; 
  • Roommates; 
  • Neighbors; or 
  • Professionals, such as police or child welfare workers.   

It is optional to have other people testify as witnesses for you. You can be a witness in your own case. Your testimony alone can be enough evidence. 

Yes. You are your most important witness. You are allowed to testify and provide the judge with information about your case. 

Warning! If you were charged with a crime related to the restraining order case, you should talk to your criminal defense attorney before testifying at a restraining order hearing. You have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. 

No. You cannot use letters from witnesses as evidence. You must have your witnesses come to your hearing and testify under oath in front of a judge.   

When witnesses testify at a hearing, both sides have the chance to ask the witness questions. This helps a judge make a better decision about whether the witness is telling the truth and is reliable.   

If your witnesses cannot make it in person to the hearing, you can ask for them to testify by phone or video. Talk to staff at your court if you want to have a witness testify by phone or video.

No. If you don't have other evidence, you can rely on witness testimony alone to help you prove your case. Witness testimony alone can be enough. 

But, if you have other evidence, you should use it. The more evidence you have to support your claims, the easier it is for a judge to believe you.   

Other evidence includes:   

  • Text messages between you and the other person; 
  • Photos; 
  • Audio or video recordings of the other person; 
  • Social media posts or messages from the other side; or 
  • Criminal conviction records.

When you bring other evidence to court with you, each piece of evidence is called an exhibit. To get your exhibits ready for court:  

  1. Print out your exhibits. All exhibits, including photos and screenshots of text messages, must be printed out. Don’t bring in evidence on your phone.
  2. Organize your exhibits. Your exhibits don’t need to be in a certain order. But if you have multi-page exhibits, you should paperclip them together and write page numbers on each page of the exhibit.
  3. Put exhibit stickers on each piece of evidence. Place an exhibit sticker on the first page of each piece of evidence, in the bottom right-hand corner. You can get exhibit stickers from your courthouse, online, or from an office supply store.
  4. Number your exhibits. Each exhibit must be numbered. If you’re the Petitioner, number your exhibits, “1, 2, 3, 4,” etc. If you’re the Respondent, number your exhibits, “101, 102, 103, 104, etc.”
  5. Make copies. After you organize and label your exhibits, make two extra copies. One copy is for you, one is for the other person, and the originals are for the judge.  

Tip: It takes longer than you think to organize exhibits for a hearing. Don’t wait until the morning of your hearing to organize your exhibits. If you don’t have a copier, you can print documents and make copies at your local library or a copy center. These places usually have copy machines that can print straight from a USB drive.    

Call your local circuit court as soon as possible for instructions on how to use audio or video evidence at your court hearing. Many counties require you to turn in this evidence on a USB drive several days before your hearing—even if you're having an in-person hearing. You also need to send this evidence to the other side before your hearing. 

It depends.  

  • In-person hearings: Bring your evidence to court with you. You can give the other person copies of your evidence at the beginning of the hearing. You will give the judge their copies during the hearing when you and your witnesses testify.  
  • Remote hearings: Every county has different rules on how to turn in evidence for remote hearings. In most counties, you must bring your evidence to the courthouse several days before your hearing. You also need to make sure the other person gets a copy. For more information on how to turn in evidence for a remote hearing:  
    • Read your hearing notice. Some counties include detailed information on their hearing notices about how to turn in exhibits for remote hearings.   
    • Visit your local court's website. You can find your local court’s rules for remote hearings on Oregon's state court website
    • Call your local court. Call your local circuit court and ask court staff how to turn in your exhibits for a remote hearing. 

A judge needs some information about your children (or child) so they can make a temporary plan for them. You can provide this information to the judge through your testimony and/or the testimony of other witnesses.   

A judge may want to know: 

  • Did your children witness any abuse?  
  • Are your children afraid of the other parent? Why?  
  • Are you afraid of seeing the other parent at pick-ups and drop-offs? Why?  
  • Are you worried about your children's safety when they’re with the other parent? Why? 
  • How involved have both parents been with the children?  
  • What are the children's relationships like with both parents?  
  • What are the children's schedules? 
  • What are the parents’ schedules?  
  • What type of visitation schedule do you think is best for your children?

If you have time, you can create a written parenting plan to help the judge understand what kind of plan you want the judge to order.  

If you create a written parenting plan, your plan can be included as a piece of evidence in your stack of exhibits.  

You don’t need to create your own plan from scratch. You can find safety-focused parenting plan templates on the website for Oregon’s state courts. You can use one of these parenting plan templates to create your own plan. 

Yes. You should prepare questions for your witnesses. A judge won't question your witnesses for you. Here are some guidelines for how to question a witness: 

  • Ask your witnesses open-ended questions. Open-ended questions often begin with "who," "what," "why," "where," and "how."  
  • Don’t ask your own witnesses leading questions. A leading question is one that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”    
  • Only ask your witnesses about things they personally saw or heard. Your witnesses cannot testify about things that other people told them. 
  • Ask your witnesses relevant questions. Your questions must be related to your restraining order case and the issues in your case.

Yes. While there are no rules about how old a child must be to testify, it’s usually not a good idea to have a child be a witness.  

If you are thinking of having a child testify, consider:    

  • How necessary is the child’s testimony to your case?  
  • Is there an adult who can provide the judge with the same information?   
  • How will testifying affect the child’s relationship with the person they are testifying against?   
  • How will testifying affect the child’s relationship with you?  
  • What is the child’s age and maturity level?  
  • How well does the child remember important events in your case?  
  • Does the child want to testify? 
  • Is the child able to provide detailed testimony to a judge or will they be so nervous that they will be unable to speak in court?

If you have enough time, you can give a witness a subpoena. A subpoena is a legal document that tells someone they must be a witness at a court hearing. If a person does not follow a subpoena, they can get in trouble. 

You may be able to get a blank subpoena from your local circuit court for free. If you can’t get a subpoena from your courthouse, you’ll need to have a lawyer prepare a subpoena for you.  

There are many rules for subpoenaing witnesses. If you run into complications, talk to a lawyer. If you can’t find a lawyer to help you, you may need to move on and not rely on an unwilling witness.

It is optional to make an opening statement.  

Opening statements happen at the beginning of a court hearing. They are like a movie preview. Both sides get a chance to give the judge a sneak peek at their case and the evidence they have.  

An opening statement is not evidence. If you want the judge to consider information, you must bring that information up when it’s your turn to present your evidence.   

Sometimes judges skip opening statements if they don’t have much time.

It is optional to make a closing argument.  

Closing arguments happen at the end of the hearing, right before the judge makes their decision. Closing arguments are your last chance to try to convince the judge to decide in your favor.  Both sides can make a closing argument. 

A closing argument is not evidence. You cannot bring up new information during a closing argument. You must stick to the evidence that was presented earlier in the hearing.    

Sometimes judges skip closing arguments if there are no lawyers and/or the judge is running out of time. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the court to provide people with disabilities with reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are normally done so that a person with disabilities can access court services. For example, a person with hearing loss could request a listening device or a sign language interpreter as a reasonable accommodation.  

If you need to ask for an accommodation, complete this state court form and bring it to the ADA coordinator at your local courthouse.  

If you or your witnesses don’t speak English (or don’t speak English well enough to understand complicated legal words), you can ask the court to provide an interpreter at your court hearing. There is no cost for this.  

You should ask for an interpreter as soon as possible, but no less than two days before your court hearing.  

You can ask for an interpreter online, using the Request an Interpreter form from Oregon’s state courts.

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