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A legal proceeding - other than a trial - held before a judge, magistrate or court commissioner.
At a trial, disputed questions of fact and law are resolved and the case is concluded
although the parties may appeal. At a hearing, on the other hand, preliminary issues, various motions, procedural issues (e.g. discovery disputes, granting a default or uncontested divorce) and post-trial modifications and enforcements are heard, often based on written submissions of evidence or points of law rather than live testimony.
Example 1: A is suing B for divorce with a trial to be held in nine months. B claims to need alimony now, so she files a request for temporary alimony. The court schedules a hearing at which A and B can appear before judicial officer and orally present their separate sides. Afterwards, the judicial officer will decide if B is entitled to the alimony, and if so, how much.
Example 2: B receives sporadic royalty payments for a book she wrote seven years ago and claims that the income is speculative, hoping to keep it from being considered in the upcoming divorce trial where the amount of permanent alimony will be determined. A week before the trial, B requests a hearing to determine whether the law requires that the judge consider her royalty income in setting A's alimony.
There are certain situations where a hearing can be dispositive of an entire dispute; the most notable being motions for summary judgement in civil cases and dismissals, with or without prejudice, based on various grounds in both civil and criminal proceedings.