This page provides general information about how to get ready for your court hearing, and what to expect on your hearing day. Some case types may have additional procedures.
A “hearing” is a court proceeding in front of a judge or magistrate. On this page the term “hearing” includes hearings and trials without juries.
Jury trials can be complicated. If you’re getting ready for a jury trial, you should talk to an attorney for guidance. See the Finding Legal Help web page for information about ways to get the help of an attorney.
ADA Accommodations and Interpreters
If you would like to ask for an ADA accommodation or an interpreter, contact the court right away.
- The form to request an ADA accommodation is on the Americans with Disabilities Act web page.
- The form to request an interpreter is on the Language Access: Interpreters and Translators web page.
You have a right to represent yourself in court. Some cases are simple and straightforward. Others are complex and difficult. Think about the issues in your case, and what is at stake.
If you choose to represent yourself, you must follow the same rules and procedures as attorneys do.
Learn as much as you can about court rules and procedures so you are prepared.
Think about these things when deciding whether to represent yourself:
- Are you good at filling out paperwork?
- Are you good at keeping track of deadlines?
- Are you comfortable speaking in public?
- Do you have written documents or witnesses to help you present your story?
- Are you prepared to spend time researching the law in a library or on the Internet?
- Does the other party have an attorney?
Even if you are representing yourself, it can be helpful to talk to an attorney about your case.
In most criminal cases, you have the right to a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford one. There is no right to a free attorney in most non-criminal cases.
Our Finding Legal Help web page provides information about ways to get the help of an attorney.
The court will send you a Hearing Notice before your hearing. Read the notice carefully. It has important information including the date and time of your hearing, and whether it will be held remotely or in person.
Regardless of whether your hearing is scheduled to be held remotely or in person, you can ask to have it held in a different way than it has been scheduled to be held. See the Asking to Attend in Person or Remotely section below for more information.
Many court hearings are held remotely. A remote hearing is when some or all the participants attend by video or phone, including judges and attorneys.
If your hearing will be remote, the notice should include instructions about how to join. If you can’t tell whether your hearing is remote or in person, contact the court.
You can join a remote hearing by video or phone. The Vermont Judiciary uses a system called Webex for remote hearings. Even if you are using a landline or basic cell phone, you will be able to join a remote hearing. It’s important to test your device before your hearing to make sure you’re ready to go. The kinds of things to test include:
- making sure your device works with Webex,
- muting and unmuting your microphone, and
- turning your camera on and off.
Hearings can run longer than you expect. Make sure your device is fully charged or plugged in. If you’re using a cellphone, make sure it has enough data or minutes for several hours. You also want a strong internet connection.
The Participating in Remote Hearings web page has suggestions for places to find internet access.
Watch another hearing
Most court hearings are public. Watching a hearing is a good way to see how they work. Notice how the judge talks to people, and how the parties are each given a turn to present their case. Contact the court for information about how to watch a hearing.
Make an outline to help you stay on track during your hearing. Think about what you want to say and what evidence and witnesses support your claims. Make a list of questions for your witnesses and for the other party’s witnesses.
There are two main kinds of evidence: exhibits and witnesses.
Exhibits are things, such as documents or objects. Examples of exhibits include:
- Copies of emails and texts
- Police reports
- Medical records
You may have filed documents along with your complaint or answer to support your position. If you want the judge to consider these documents as evidence, you are responsible for presenting them at the hearing. You should not assume the judge has reviewed the exhibits you filed.
- If your hearing is in person, get copies of your exhibits to the court and the other party, making sure they are received several days before the hearing. You can send your exhibits to the court and other party by email (except for audio or video exhibits), mail, or hand deliver them. Check your hearing notice for the required number of days. Also make at least three copies of your exhibits and bring them with you to the courthouse. One copy is for the judge, one is for the other party, and one copy is for yourself.
- If your hearing is remote, send copies of your exhibits to the court and the other party, making sure they are received several days before the hearing. You can send your exhibits to the court and other party by email (except for audio or video exhibits), mail, or hand deliver them. Check your hearing notice for the required number of days.
- If you have audio or video exhibits, you must give a copy to the court and the other party on a DVD or USB flash drive. You are responsible for figuring out how you will play the exhibit during the hearing.
- If your hearing is in person, contact the court to see what equipment might be available.
- If your hearing is remote, figure out how you will play the exhibit for the judge and the other party. One option is to share content in Webex. You can find information on the Sharing Content in Webex web page.
Witnesses are people who testify at your hearing. They can include:
- The parties in the case.
- Other people who have direct and relevant information about the case
- Experts qualified to give an opinion about some aspect of the case. Expert testimony is testimony provided by a person who has specialized training or experience in a particular field. For example, an accountant could testify about financial matters, or a doctor could testify about medical issues.
Your witnesses must attend the hearing. You can’t submit a written statement or letter from someone instead of having them testify. Both sides have the right to cross-examine or question witnesses. You can't ask an affidavit or letters questions.
If your hearing is in person but your witness can’t come to the courthouse, make a written request – called a motion – to the court asking to allow your witness to participate remotely. You must also send a copy of your motion to the other party.
If your witness is participating remotely, you are responsible for giving them the information they need to join the hearing. This includes the Webex meeting number and password. Test their equipment just like you would test yours to make sure they’re ready to participate.
If you have a witness who is important to your case, you can ask the court to issue a subpoena.
Some witnesses are willing to come to court voluntarily. Others some may be reluctant or unwilling to testify. A subpoena is a court order requiring a witness to come to a hearing to testify. A witness who has been subpoenaed to testify must attend the hearing. If they do not, the court may issue an arrest warrant, hold the person in contempt of court, or reschedule the hearing.
You must have a copy of the subpoena delivered to (served on) the person you are subpoenaing. Parties in the case many not deliver a subpoena, so you can’t deliver the subpoena yourself. Anyone over 18 and who is not a party in the case may deliver the subpoena.
There is no fee to ask the court for a subpoena, but if the subpoena requires the person to attend a hearing, you must pay them the witness fee and mileage reimbursement. The amount of the witness fee is different in criminal and non-criminal cases. The witness fee and mileage reimbursement must be paid at the same time the subpoena is served on the witness.
See the Subpoenas in Civil Cases page for more information.
You can find the form to ask for a subpoena at the bottom of this page in the Forms section.
Rules of Evidence
The Vermont Rules of Evidence (choose Vermont Court Rules from the box at the right, then scroll down to Rules of Evidence) govern what evidence the court is allowed to consider. Examples of some rules include:
- The testimony or exhibit must be relevant.
- People can only talk about what they know firsthand. If they don’t have firsthand knowledge, it’s “hearsay” which is usually not allowed.
- You have the right to cross-examine or question anyone whose words (whether written or spoken) are being considered as evidence.
The Rules of Evidence can be complicated. Talk to an attorney if you have questions.
This section provides tips for your day in court. The tips apply to both in person and remote hearings.
Even if your hearing is remote, you are still in court. It is important to act, dress, and prepare just as you would if you were going into a courthouse.
Hearings can run longer than you expect. You may have to wait a while for your turn. Give yourself several hours for your hearing. Here are some things to plan for:
- Getting time off from work.
- Arranging for childcare.
- If your hearing is remote, finding a quiet and private place where you won’t be interrupted.
Be on time
- If your hearing is remote, join at least 10 minutes ahead of the start time.
- If your hearing is in person at the courthouse, give yourself enough time to find parking, go through security and find the right courtroom. Give yourself extra time for traffic and other delays. Check the address on your hearing notice to make sure you’re going to the right place. Some towns have more than one courthouse.
- If you are delayed or can’t make the hearing because of car trouble, illness, or other emergency, contact the court right away.
Remote hearings – look and sound good
If you are participating by video:
- Set the camera at eye level and arm’s length away. If you are using a phone, prop it up so you don’t hold it.
- Look at the camera, not the screen, when speaking.
- If you can, sit in a well-lit room facing a window and no bright lights behind you or above you.
If you are participating by video or phone:
- Pause before speaking in case there is an audio or video delay.
- Avoid using a speaker phone.
- Keep yourself muted any time you aren’t speaking.
If you’re having trouble joining the remote hearing, contact the court right away.
If your hearing is in person, you will go through security screening at the courthouse similar to airport screening.
Weapons aren’t allowed in courthouses. Weapons include:
- Pepper spray
- Aerosol bottles
- Sharp objects, such as hypodermic needles, knitting needles and scissors
Other items are also prohibited, such as alcohol and controlled substances.
Leave prohibited items at home or in your car. Court security officers won’t store anything for you.
You can have a phone or other electronic devices at your hearing, but make sure they are in silent mode.
Entering the courtroom
When you enter the courtroom, check in with the court officer. They keep track of who is there and ready to start their hearing.
Once you have checked in, take a seat. When your case is called, come forward to one of the tables facing the judge.
If your hearing is remote, the “courtroom” is different.
- If you’re joining by video, you may see several people on the screen including court staff, lawyers, witnesses, other people waiting for their hearings, and the judge. There may be other people there too, including students and media. Keep your microphone muted until it is your turn to speak.
- If you’re joining by phone, you won’t be able to see who else is there. Don’t start talking. You may be joining in the middle of another hearing. Make sure your microphone is muted, and wait until court staff check in with you. They will confirm who you are and make sure you’re in the right place. Once you’ve checked in, mute your microphone again and wait for your turn. Keep yourself muted until it’s your turn to speak. To mute your phone, press *6 or use your phone’s mute button. When it’s time to speak, press *6 again to unmute your microphone.
Whether your hearing is in person or remote, there are rules you must follow:
- Address the judge as “your honor.”
- If you are in a courtroom, stand as you are able when the judge enters, and any time you’re speaking, unless the judge says you may remain seated.
- Don’t interrupt. The judge will let you know when it’s your turn to speak.
- Be polite and respectful to the judge and to the other party.
- Don’t eat or smoke during your hearing.
- Dress neatly.
- You may not make or transmit audio or video recordings of your court hearings. There are exceptions for people using devices to accommodate a disability. If you need an audio recording of a hearing, you can request a copy using the Request for access to court record form, available at the bottom of this page in the Forms section.
The people in the courtroom will vary, depending on the kind of case.
Judicial officers include judges, magistrates and assistant judges. The judicial officer wears a black robe. If your hearing is in person, you will see them at the front of the courtroom behind a raised bench facing everyone else in the room.
A judge makes sure hearings and trials follow the law and court rules, and makes decision in the case.
A magistrate hears cases about child support, parentage, and temporary orders related to parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact.
One or two assistant judges may join the judge in some divorce, dissolution or legal separation cases. They are sometimes called “side judges.” Assistant judges perform the same role as a jury would: they consider the evidence, decide how much weight to give it, and determine what the facts are. They do not make legal rulings.
Judges and magistrates are neutral. Their job is to weigh the information provided by the parties and apply the law. They can’t provide legal advice and are not an advocate for either party.
The court officer performs tasks such as calling cases, swearing in witnesses, and making an electronic recording of the proceedings.
If your hearing is in person, you may see the court officer sitting near the bench, usually off to the side.
Parties: the plaintiff and defendant
If your hearing is in person, the plaintiff and defendant sit at separate tables facing the judge's bench, in front of the public seating area.
If either party is represented by an attorney, the attorneys also sit at the tables. In some courthouses the tables are labeled "plaintiff" or "defendant." Ask the court officer if you aren't sure where you should sit.
If your hearing is in person, a witness sits in an area often called the "witness box" which may be located near the court officer.
The jury is a randomly-selected group of people from the community responsible for hearing the evidence in the case. They sit in assigned seats in an area called the "jury box." Not all cases have juries.
Most court hearings are public, and anyone may watch. Juvenile, mental health, and adoption hearings are not public.
If your hearing is in person, the public sits in the back of the courtroom. If your hearing is remote, you may see people from the public appearing in separate windows on the screen.
In cases involving child support, a representative from the Office of Child Support may participate.
In criminal cases, the prosecutor is the lawyer representing the state. The prosecutor may be the States Attorney, Deputy States Attorney, or Assistant Attorney General.
Juvenile cases will include the child's attorney, and may include a include a representative from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and a guardian ad litem on behalf of the child.
There is a podium (raised small table with a microphone to stand behind) between the tables where the plaintiff and defendant sit. The parties – or their attorneys – stand at the podium when they question witnesses. Sometimes the judge may allow everyone to stay seated. Ask the judge if you should stand to question witnesses or present testimony or if you may stay seated.
Many hearings – but not all – have three stages: opening statement, presentation of evidence, and closing statement.
The opening statement is a chance to briefly describe what you want and why. The person who started the case – or the person who filed a motion requesting something – will go first. Once they are done, the other party has their turn.
Some hearings don’t have opening statements and may start with the presentation of evidence.
Presentation of evidence
Parties take turns presenting their evidence in the same order as the opening statement. When it’s your turn, introduce your exhibits and question your witnesses.
Don’t interrupt the other side when it’s their turn. You will have a chance to ask questions about their evidence.
When you present an exhibit, explain what it is and what it shows. You must give copies of all your exhibits to the court and to the other party.
If you are participating by phone, you won’t be able to see the evidence shown by the other party. You should have received a copy of any exhibits before the hearing.
When your witness testifies, ask them questions about what they saw or heard. For example, if your case is about a traffic accident and the witness saw the accident, ask them specific questions about what they saw.
The closing or final statement is your chance to briefly summarize what you want the court to do, and how your evidence supports your claims. You can also summarize the flaws in the other side’s case.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will either make a decision right then, or will say they will make a decision later. This is called taking the case “under advisement.”
The judge’s decision may be called a judgment, order, or decree.
Read the judgment carefully and make sure you understand what it requires. In a divorce case, for example, you may need to sell your home and divide the proceeds. In a small claims case, you may be ordered to pay the other party a certain amount.
If a party doesn’t follow the court order, the other party can ask the court to make them do what it says, or ask the court to punish them for not following the order.
If you need to reschedule a hearing, you must make a request in writing. The request is called a Motion for Continuance or Motion to Continue. “Continue” means to postpone or reschedule.
You can find the forms and step-by-step instructions on the Asking to Reschedule a Court Date web page.
If your hearing is scheduled to be in person and you would like to appear remotely instead, you must notify the court in writing. Send your notice to the court and to the other party so they receive it at least three days before the hearing.
If your hearing is scheduled to be remote and you would like to appear in person instead, you must ask for permission in writing. Send your request to the court and the other party so they receive it at least three days before the hearing.
You must notify the court and the other party – in writing – about any changes to your contact information. If you don’t update your information, you may miss important court notices and other papers.
You can use the Notice of Name Change or Change of Address form to update your information any time it changes. You can find the form at the bottom of this page in the Forms section.