Texas family law court is an overwhelming experience for many individuals, from unfamiliar legal procedures to emotional challenges. It may be the first time you have ever been part of a lawsuit and the first time you may enter a courtroom. Below, our Texas family law attorneys provide a general overview of what to expect in Texas family law court.
If you are facing a family law dispute in Texas, we recommend consulting with an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can help you understand what to expect in your unique situation, help you prepare, and advocate for your best interests.
We encourage you to schedule a consultation with our Texas family law attorneys. At Warren & Migliaccio, we represent individuals in all types of family law cases, helping them get the best possible results for their cases. You can call our office or contact us online, and we will contact you soon.
What Is the Role of Family Law Court?
Texas family law courts primarily handle matters related to familial relationships. They ensure that family-related disputes are resolved fairly and in accordance with the law. Family law typically encompasses many types of cases, including, but not limited to:
- Divorce. Divorce cases involve dissolving the marital relationship. These cases often include determining the division of marital property and spousal maintenance or alimony.
- Child custody and visitation. Child custody cases, called conservatorship in Texas, typically involve determining which parent or guardian a child will live with, who can make decisions for a child, and visitation rights.
- Child support. Child support cases can involve determining the financial obligation of one parent for a child’s care. They can also include modification requests and enforcement requests.
- Adoptions. Adoption cases involve establishing a legal relationship between individuals who are not biologically parent and child.
- Paternity. Paternity cases involve establishing the fatherhood of a child and parental rights.
- Protective orders. Protective orders, often called restraining orders, protect one person from another’s violence, harassment, stalking, or threatening behavior.
What Is the Texas Family Law Court Process?
While each case is unique, a typical family law case in Texas generally involves a similar process. We recommend having a Texas family law attorney on your side if dealing with a family matter. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the process, fight for your best interests, and increase your chances of a favorable case outcome.
A family law case begins when one party, the petitioner, files an initial petition or complaint with the appropriate court. The type of petition to file depends on the legal matter, such as divorce or child custody.
The petition serves as a formal request to the court to address and decide on the issues listed in the document. Generally, it includes:
- Names and details of the parties involved
- Nature of the relationship between the parties
- Relief being sought, such as custody arrangements, property division, or spousal support
- Immediate concerns that may need temporary orders, like protective orders
2. Service of Process
Once the petition is filed, the other party, called the respondent, must be formally notified of the lawsuit. This process, known as service of process, notifies the other party about the lawsuit by giving them a copy of the initial complaint and providing court date information.
There are various methods to serve documents in Texas. It often involves a sheriff, constable, or private process server delivering the petition to the respondent. Another common way, if the two parties are amicable, includes a waiver of service.
3. Respondent’s Answer to the Lawsuit
Once served, the respondent typically has a specific time frame to respond to the lawsuit, called an answer, with the court. Generally, this deadline is 20 days. Filing an answer with the court keeps the petitioner from finishing the case without them. It protects the respondent’s right to have a say in the case.
The petitioner may be granted a default judgment if the respondent fails to respond by the deadline. A default judgment essentially means the judge rules in the petitioner’s favor, and they may get what they requested in the initial petition.
The case will proceed if the respondent files an answer with the court.
4. Temporary Orders
While the case is pending, either party can request a hearing for temporary orders. Temporary orders provide interim solutions while the case is ongoing to ensure the protection, stability, and well-being of the parties involved, especially children.
For example, if requested, the court may make temporary orders on matters like child custody, visitation, child support, spousal maintenance, and the use of property. The court may also grant protection orders if there is a risk of domestic violence.
Temporary orders are in place until the case is resolved or until the court issues another order replacing them. Once the final order is delivered at the conclusion of the case, it overrides any temporary orders.
Discovery is a formal process that allows both parties in a family law case to gather and exchange evidence and information relevant to the lawsuit. The discovery process may include many methods to collect information, including but not limited to:
- Requests for production. Requests for production ask a party to provide physical items, such as documents, photographs, or even personal property.
- Interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions one party sends to the other to answer.
- Depositions. Depositions are interviews that both parties may conduct.
- Requests for admissions. Requests for admissions ask a party to admit or deny specific facts or allegations related to the case.
Attorneys use the information obtained during discovery to develop case strategies and prepare for trial.
6. Alternative Dispute Resolution
There are generally two ways to resolve a family law matter. The parties can come to an agreement or go to trial and let a judge decide. Before trial, parties are often encouraged or required by the judge to attempt alternative dispute resolution to settle their case, specifically mediation.
Mediation is an informal and private process where a neutral third party, called a mediator, facilitates discussions and helps both sides come to a mutually agreeable solution. Most family law cases are settled outside of court through mediation. Mediation is less expensive and faster than court. However, if mediation does not work, the case will proceed to trial.
If mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method does not resolve the dispute, the case proceeds to trial. The trial is the final court hearing. Here, issues that are in disagreement are presented to the judge or jury, who will make a final decision.
Both parties will provide opening statements to begin, starting with the petitioner. An opening statement is a brief overview of each side’s case, including what they plan to present, what they believe the evidence will show, and what they ask of the court.
After opening statements, each side will present their case. The petitioner presents their evidence first. Evidence may include witness testimony and physical evidence. After the petitioner’s attorney finishes the direct examination of a witness, the respondent’s attorney has the right to cross-examine them. Once the petitioner’s case rests, it is the respondent’s turn to present their case.
After the respondent’s case rests, both sides can offer closing arguments. Closing arguments allow each party to summarize their case, highlight key evidence, and persuade the judge or jury.
After hearing both sides, the judge or jury will make a final decision. Depending on the case, the decision may concern property division, child custody, and support orders.
Tips for Texas Family Law Court
Going to Texas family court can be a daunting experience, especially if you have never been to court. A few tips to help you prepare include:
- Dress appropriately. The court is a formal place. You should follow your court’s dress code by wearing business casual or professional attire. You may be turned away from the courtroom if you show up in inappropriate clothes.
- Arrive early. Always arrive early for court hearings. You need time to park and may have to go through security. You could be locked out of the courtroom for being late.
- Turn off your phone. Before entering the courtroom, turn off your phone and other electronic devices.
- Be respectful. Courtrooms are places of order and decorum. Always address the judge as “Your Honor,” listen attentively, and avoid interrupting the judge or the opposing party.
- Refrain from outbursts. Family law matters can be deeply personal and emotional. However, it is essential to keep your emotions in check during hearings. Even if you disagree with something being said, stay silent. Let your attorney advocate on your behalf.
Schedule a Consultation With Our Texas Family Law Attorneys
At Warren & Migliaccio, we represent individuals and families in all family law matters, including divorce and child custody. If you are facing a family law dispute, do not hesitate to reach out to us about your situation. If you are facing a family law dispute and have questions about your case and what to expect in Texas family law court, do not hesitate to reach out to us about your situation.
During a consultation, we can answer your legal questions and discuss potential legal options based on your unique situation and case objectives. We can also determine how we may be able to help you. Call our office or submit our online contact form, and we will contact you soon.