How Courts Work
Learn about the courts that hear family law matters in Clark County, who you might meet at the courthouse, and how family court cases move through the courts.
The court you will appear in most often as part of your family law matter is the district court. The Family Division of the Eighth Judicial District Court is where family matters are initially heard and resolved in Clark County. There are 20 family court judges in Clark County who are randomly assigned to hear every family court matter. Visit the District Court page to learn more.
FYI!Local court rules require all family court matters between the same parties to be assigned to the same judge. This is known as the “one judge, one family” rule. All child support cases, temporary protective order cases, divorce and custody matters, etc. involving the same parties are assigned to the same judge to oversee. A hearing master or commissioner may hear some matters, but ultimately, all cases are overseen by the same district court judge to provide consistency.
If a party wants to challenge an order issued by the district court, an appeal can be made to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Nevada Supreme Court is the state's highest court, and has the power to hear the case or assign the case to the Nevada Court of Appeal. The appellate court does not re-try the case, but instead determines if legal errors were made by the District Court. Visit the Nevada Supreme Court page to learn more.
FYI!This site only discusses the courts involved in family law issues in Nevada. Many other courts exist for other purposes. For a more complete discussion, please visit the Civil Law Self-Help Center’s website.
When you walk into the court for the first time, you may want to stop by the information booth. Tell the court staff why you are at the court, what you are looking for, and what you are trying to accomplish. They will be happy to point you in the right direction if they can.
At the family court, you will probably find these court employees and staff:
- The court clerk. If you are submitting papers to the court (known as "filing") or trying to get general information about a case, you may need to visit the court clerk's office. The court clerk is responsible for filing all documents that the parties submit to the court. The clerk can access the court's case records and can provide you with copies of documents that have been filed (for a fee).
- Judicial officers. Every courtroom has a judicial officer, the person who makes the decisions about the problems that people came to court about. He or she wears a black robe and sits at the front of the courtroom facing everyone else. Judicial officers you may come across at family court are:
- A judge. A judge is usually an attorney elected by the voters at a general election to serve as a judicial officer for a specific term.
- A senior judge. A senior judge is a retired judge who may be recalled by the Nevada Supreme Court to assist in the judicial districts. Senior judges may hear cases when a sitting judge is ill or absent. Senior judges also conduct settlement conferences at family court to try and help parties settle their cases.
- A commissioner or hearing master. This is a person appointed by the court and given the power to hear and make decisions in certain kinds of legal matters. At family court, commissioners and hearing masters may hear child support, protective order, guardianship, juvenile delinquency and dependency, and discovery matters.
- The courtroom clerk. Every courtroom has a clerk who helps the judge manage cases, keeps court records, and gives other administrative support to the judge and the court as a whole.
- A marshal. Most courtrooms have a marshal in charge of security in the court.
- A court interpreter. When one of the parties or witnesses in a case does not speak English well, there is usually a court interpreter to help the non-English speaker understand what is going on. In most cases, the person needing the interpreter needs to arrange for the interpreter in advance. Visit the Interpreters page to learn more.
The best way to find out what goes on in a courtroom is to visit a courtroom and watch. Most hearings and trials are open to the public. If you have a case with a particular judge, go watch the judge to see how he or she handles cases like yours. That way, you will have an idea of what to expect.
Most family law cases can be divided into the following steps:
- Opening a Case. One person (the “Plaintiff”) files legal papers to start the court action (the "complaint"), and has the other party served.
- Responding to the Case. The other person (the “Defendant”) files legal papers to respond to the case (the “answer and counterclaim”).
- Case Management Conference. In most family court cases, the judge sets this hearing within 90 days of when Defendant filed the answer and counterclaim. The parties will appear in court to discuss the issues.
- Mediation/Settlement. Family court judges encourage the parties to resolve their issues out of court whenever possible. Judges may refer the parties to the Family Mediation Center to see if an agreement can be reached on child custody and visitation issues. Judges may refer the parties to other settlement programs so the parties can try to settle their issues with the help of a neutral person.
- Motion Practice. It may take a while to get a final order from the court, due to the steps above. Parties sometimes need the judge to issue temporary orders to guide the parties while the case is going on. Parties can file motions to ask the judge for temporary orders.
- Discovery. Discovery is ongoing as a family case is moving through the court. Discovery allows both sides to exchange information and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the other side's case.
- Trial. If the parties cannot reach a full agreement on the issues, the judge will set a trial where the issues are decided by the judge. At trial, each party presents witnesses and evidence, and the judge decides the issues.
- Post-trial. After trial, one or both of the parties might appeal the judge’s decision.
- Changing the Order Later. Things may change in the future that make the court order no longer practical (such as child custody/visitation, or child support issues). When parties want to change anything about the court order, they can either stipulate to the changes or they can file motions to have the judge consider new orders.