Continuance Mean in Court
Call Toll-Free 24 Hours:

What Does a Continuance Mean in Court and When is it Warranted?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental principle in the American legal system, though the concept of a “speedy trial” primarily applies to criminal cases. In civil cases, each case has its own set of circumstances, and sometimes, the preparations and proceedings leading up to the trial may not unfold as expected.

For example, if a party in a civil lawsuit realizes they are unprepared to present their case on the scheduled date, they might ask for a delay to ensure they can fully prepare for the trial.

This delay, known as a continuance, is equivalent to an adjournment or postponement in legal terms. Although continuances are a key part of the legal system, they can be a point of contention as they may prolong a case and potentially delay the delivery of justice.

A knowledgeable Michigan lawyer can help you understand what a continuance means in court, how they work, when to expect them, and which situations warrant them.

What Does a Continuance Mean in Court?

A continuance is a court order to delay the case’s proceedings, resulting in its postponement or adjournment to a later date than the one initially ordered.

Continuance is a judicial act typically issued in response to one of the parties in the case requesting it. The decision to grant or deny one is subject to a judge’s discretion. In most cases, the judge must consider multiple factors before deciding to grant or deny a motion of continuance:

  • The complexity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it
  • The requesting party’s reasons for requesting continuance
  • Whether the party requesting continuance is acting in good faith
  • The number of previous motions of continuance granted and the reasons for each
  • What advantages to each side in the case if the motion is granted
  • Whether either side faces disadvantages or a violation of their rights if continuance is issued

In rarer cases, judges may independently decide to issue an order of continuance, or legal mechanisms may force one to occur. For example, the death of a presiding judge can result in an automatic continuance motion, leaving enough time for a new judge to be assigned to the case and resume the legal process.

Regardless of the reason for granting a motion of continuance, it applies equally to all parties involved. For example, if a case has multiple defendants, a motion of continuance granted to one of them will apply to all of them and the opposition, giving all parties additional time to prepare.

What is a Stipulated Order of Continuance?

A Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC) is a legal agreement between the defendant and the prosecution in a criminal case. In the SOC, both sides of a criminal case agree to postpone the case for a defined, specific period.

During the time granted by the SOC, the defendant is typically required to follow specific, outlined conditions, such as paying reparations, undergoing treatment, or avoiding further legal trouble.

Stipulated Orders of Continuance (SOCs) are not just about delaying court cases; they are primarily designed to encourage the defendant’s rehabilitation. Under a SOC, if the defendant meets the conditions set out during the postponement period, they may end up with lesser charges or sometimes even have their charges dropped entirely.

In civil cases, while the term “Stipulated Order of Continuance” might not be commonly used, parties can agree to postpone proceedings or meet certain conditions before moving forward. These agreements in civil cases are typically referred to as “continuances” or “stipulations,” and like in criminal cases, they require judicial approval.

What Are Good Reasons for a Continuance?

Under normal circumstances, courts decide trial dates by considering the case’s specifics, ensuring each involved side has enough time to prepare accordingly. This is in accordance with the constitutionally protected right to a fair and speedy trial.

However, there are many valid reasons to request continuance. The complexity of a case may increase, resulting in unforeseen consequences. They can cause a schedule previously considered reasonable to leave too little time for either side to prepare adequately. In response, a judge may prioritize fairness over speediness and issue continuance to ensure the trial’s validity and impartiality.

Common examples of reasons to request continuance include:

  • Service of process not made upon a defendant. In civil cases, all defendants must be adequately served with legal documents. If the service of process fails, the court may grant a continuance to allow the defendant time to prepare a defense.
  • Delay in filing pleadings. Civil cases require filing pleadings, which are formal documents outlining each party’s claims or defenses. If there is a delay in filing these documents, a continuance may be granted to allow the other party time to respond.
  • Absence of witness. Civil trials often rely on witness testimonies. If a key witness is unavailable, a continuance may be granted to allow time for the witness to appear, provided their testimony is shown to be crucial.
  • Absence of evidence. In civil litigation, the absence of critical evidence can warrant a continuance, especially if the evidence is central to the case and efforts are being made to obtain it legally and promptly.
  • Accidental loss or destruction of key documents. If important documents are accidentally lost or destroyed, a continuance may be granted to allow time for recovery or replacement, assuming these documents are essential for the case.
  • Absence of counsel. A continuance may be requested if a party’s legal counsel is unexpectedly absent due to valid reasons. Valid reasons could include medical emergencies or unforeseen scheduling conflicts.
  • Absence of party. If a party involved in the case is unable to appear in court due to involuntary or uncontrollable circumstances, such as sudden illness, their counsel may request a continuance.

civil court continuance

What Are Common Reasons to Deny Continuance?

While many situations warrant filing a motion of continuance in a legal case, judges do not always grant these requests. They can deny a continuance if they believe the requesting party isn’t acting in good faith. Common reasons to deny include:

  • Delay tactics. The court may deny the request for a continuance if they perceive it as an attempt to delay proceedings unnecessarily.
  • Failure to show due diligence. Courts can deny continuance requests if they determine the requesting party did not prepare for the case adequately beforehand.
  • Excessive previous continuances. Judges are less likely to grant new continuances for a given case if they have already granted one or multiple continuances in the past.
  • Minimal impact. If the requesting party needs continuance to locate a witness, evidence, or critical documents, the judge may deny the request because they do not consider them crucial to the case. The requesting party must continue proceedings without the missing elements.
  • Unfair prejudice. Courts may consider whether a continuance request from one party would unfairly disadvantage the other. For example, a continuance request can cause a significant scheduling conflict with the other party’s key witnesses, making them unable to appear on the new date. A judge may determine this request would cause unfair prejudice, denying it.
  • Public interest. A judge can determine whether a continuance would be detrimental to the public interest. This happens most commonly in high-profile cases with publicized court dates, where delays could cause public uproar or uncertainty.

Can I Get a Continuance Without a Lawyer?

All parties in a case have the right to request continuance whether they have hired a lawyer or are ready to represent themselves in court. However, in addition to ensuring they have a valid reason, the requesting party must follow the court’s proper requesting procedures. This process can be complex and often requires the expertise of a lawyer.

You should generally avoid trying to go through the continuance request process by yourself unless you have no other choice. For example, if your lawyer is absent, you may need to make the request yourself and prove your lawyer’s absence is unexpected and involuntary.

Are Continuances Likely in Malpractice Lawsuits?

Continuances in malpractice lawsuits, like in other legal proceedings, depend on several factors and are not uncommon. Malpractice cases are usually complex, involving detailed medical issues and the need for expert testimonies, and therefore require careful and extensive preparation.

Given this complexity, it’s not unusual for either party – the plaintiff or the defense – to request additional time to gather necessary evidence, consult with experts, or prepare more thoroughly for trial.

Judges carefully consider continuance requests in malpractice cases. They weigh the need for additional time against the right to a timely resolution. A continuance might be granted if a critical expert witness is unavailable, new evidence emerges, or changes in the case’s circumstances require further investigation.

However, judges are also mindful of the potential for delay tactics and may reject a continuance request if they believe it’s being used to prolong the case unnecessarily. While continuances are possible in malpractice lawsuits, their approval is contingent upon the legitimacy of the reasons presented and the judge’s discretion.

Contact Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. Today

Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., has successfully represented personal injury and medical malpractice victims in Michigan for decades. We have helped numerous victims recover millions of dollars, including the state’s largest award for a malpractice case.

Our senior partner, Eileen Kroll, has field experience as a registered nurse. It allows her to combine her expertise in law and healthcare, letting her represent clients’ interests with the efficiency and compassion they deserve.

Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Contact us today online or call our 24-hour toll-free number at 1-866-MICH-LAW  to schedule a no-obligation free consultation.


Can a motion for continuance be denied?

Yes. Judges have complete discretion over granting or denying a motion for continuance. They determine the validity of each request and decide accordingly.

Is a continuance a good thing?

It depends. Continuance can grant you more time to prepare and review your documents, negotiate with the other party, resolve a scheduling issue, and strengthen your legal strategy. However, it can also be detrimental, delaying the case’s resolution.

Why would a court case be continued?

Judges can approve a motion of continuance for several reasons. Common examples include additional preparation time, resolving scheduling conflicts, new evidence or case developments, helping parties reach a settlement, or changes in legal representation.

How many continuances are allowed in a court case?

While there is no limit to the number of continuances a judge can grant, courts are less likely to give new ones if previous ones have been approved. However, the decision to approve or deny motions of continuance is up to the judge’s discretion.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Nikole has a special interest in medical-legal issues and holds post-basic degrees in medical law and business. She has developed quality improvement and safety plans for many practices and facilities to prevent medical-legal issues and teaches several courses on data protection and privacy, legal, medical examinations and documentation, and professional ethics. She has been writing professionally on legal, business, ethics, patient advocacy, research and medico-legal issues in articles, white papers, business plans, and training courses for over thirty-five years.



Testimonial Image


There is no obligation for a case evaluation & no fee is charged unless a recovery is made.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Your privacy is important to us. Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. does not share, sell, rent, or trade personally identifiable or confidential information with third parties for any purpose.
Call Now Button