Most, if not all, of the courts in Collin County, Dallas County and Denton County require the parties to mediate before going to trial.  Even when mediation is not required, I almost always recommend to clients that they attend mediation.  Mediation allows you to come up with creative solutions that a judge could never order.  It also allows you to have control over the final result, which a trial does not give you.

Probably 90-95% of my clients are sure that mediation is pointless going in, as they know that neither party is going to compromise enough to reach a settlement.  Yet somehow 90-95% of the cases that I take to mediation end up settling.  There is a reason that mediators have jobs.  If the parties and attorneys could settle cases on their own, mediation would not be necessary.

Typically at mediation, my client and I sit in one room and the opposing party and his or her attorney sit in another room.  At most mediations, we never even see the other side.  The mediator (who may or may not be an attorney) goes back and forth between the rooms to try and help the parties reach a settlement.  By definition, the mediator is neutral.  If the mediator takes sides, he or she will almost certainly lose the ability to negotiate with the other side.  The mediator will often play devil’s advocate in both rooms.

In my experience, the best family law mediators are attorneys with extensive family law experience who know the judges and who know what the most likely outcome at trial is going to be.  They also have a very good grasp of the Texas Family Code to be able to guide the parties when they want something they would never get in court.

Mediation is a slow process.  Although some mediations can be done in half a day, I have been in mediations lasting anywhere from 8-13 hours for family law cases.  The mediators generally provide snacks and lunch.

Occasionally I hear from people who are interested in mediating without lawyers.  Although this may sound like a good idea in theory, it can be a dangerous proposition.  Mediators cannot give legal advice, even when they are attorneys.  This can really cause a party to be blind in the negotiating process, as he or she will have no clue what the law is or what he or she is really entitled to.

Overall, I think mediation is a wonderful process and very helpful in reaching amicable resolutions in family law cases.

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Temporary orders can be entered in any family law case to govern what will happen with various different aspects of the case while it is pending.  Temporary orders can relate to both the child(ren) and other financial matters.

Typical temporary orders related to children in either a divorce or custody case include: (1) designation of conservators as either temporary joint managing conservators or temporary sole managing conservator / possessory conservator; (2) the possession schedule be for the child with each of the parents; and (3) whether child support will be paid and, if so, how much.

Examples of additional financial matters to consider for temporary orders in a divorce case are: (1) who will get primary use of the marital residence; (2) how community bills are going to be paid during a pending divorce; (3) whether or not one party will pay temporary spousal maintenance to the other; and (4) who will get primary use of any vehicle(s).

Temporary orders can also govern how the parties treat each other while the case is pending and what is said or done in front of the children.  Temporary orders can either be reached by agreement, or they can be ordered by a court after a hearing.  Temporary orders hearings are like mini trials.  In Collin County, temporary orders hearings are limited to twenty minutes per side, which can really limit what you can do.  In other counties, such as Dallas County and Denton County, you are often given significantly more time for a temporary orders hearing.

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In Texas, an agreed divorce must be finalized with a prove-up hearing.  This is the very last step in the divorce process.  Once the parties have agreed to terms, one side will prepare the final decree of divorce.  Both parties will sign the decree, and one side (usually the petitioner) will attend the prove-up hearing.  It is not necessary for the other party to attend, and it is extremely rare for that to happen.

The prove-up hearing lasts only a few minutes.  First, the attorney will present the proposed decree to the judge, and the judge will swear the client in.  The attorney will then ask a standard list of questions to the client in front of the judge.  These questions are almost all “yes” or “no” questions such as “Were you married on or about July 20, 2009 and did you cease to live together as husband and wife on or about January 15, 2014?” and “Have you agreed as to a division of your property and debts?”.  Cases involving children or a name change have additional questions beyond the standard divorce questions.

After the attorney completes the list of questions, the judge will grant the divorce and sign the decree and another other necessary documents, such as an income withholding order for child support.  The divorce is now final.

In Dallas County, each court has specific days and times each week when prove-up hearings are held.  You do not need to prove up your case in the same court where your case was filed.  Any Dallas County district judge can hear the prove-up.  In Collin County, prove-ups usually happen in the Auxiliary Court.  You can show up at any time during regular hours for a prove up in the Auxiliary Court.  (If you are attempting to handle your divorce without an attorney, you may need to do prove-ups on a more specific schedule.)

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When you set a hearing in a family law case in Dallas County prior to the final trial, the hearing is generally held in the associate judge’s courtroom.  Normal hearings are set on the docket with several other cases at the same time.  Each court has a 9:00 docket and a 1:30 docket, and there may be ten cases set each day on each docket.

If your hearing is going to take a while, then the court will require you to have a special setting.  This means that the court will block out time just for your hearing on another day.

If I know a case will require a special setting, I try to reach an agreement with the other side to have the case specially set right off the bat.  This saves both parties the time and cost of showing up for the normal docket only to be reset.  If the other side has not yet had an attorney appear in the case, it can be difficult to reach an agreement on a special setting because that person often does not understand the situation.  Depending on the particular court’s schedule, it may be possible to get a special setting within a few days, or it may take a few weeks.

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Many Texas counties have “standing orders” that apply in every family law case filed in that county.  Dallas County, Collin County, Denton County and Kaufman County all have standing orders.  Tarrant County for some reason does not have a standing order in family cases as of the date of this post.

Standing orders set forth the ground rules while the case is pending.  In divorce cases, they prohibit parties from altering or selling property, or for spending money for anything beyond normal living expenses and legal fees.  In custody cases, standing orders can include provisions prohibiting you from moving the child’s school or prohibiting you from having an unrelated paramour spend the night while the case is pending.

When suit is filed, the standing orders must be attached to the original petition.  Although each county’s standing orders are similar, they do have their unique differences.  Therefore, it is very important to read the standing orders for your county.  For example, at the time of this post, Denton County’s standing orders require parents in a divorce to complete a parenting class within 60 days of the filing of the divorce petition.  Collin County used to have a similar requirement, but it no longer does.

Standing orders can eliminate the need for a temporary orders hearing in many cases because the court already provides many of the orders you would be seeking.  However, if you wish to do something against the standing orders, you need either the agreement of the other side or a court order allowing you to do so.

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Almost every contested family law matter – divorce, child custody, CPS, termination of parental rights, paternity – ends up in mediation before a final trial.  Most, if not all, courts in Dallas County and Collin County require mediation before a final trial.

Mediation involves a neutral mediator – often an attorney but it does not have to be – who tries to help facilitate a settlement.  Normally, one party and her attorney are in one room and the other party and his attorney are in another.  The mediator goes back and forth between the rooms to try and reach a settlement.  Most of the time, I never even see the opposing party or that party’s attorney at the mediation.

Before I attend mediation with a client, I always prepare a confidential mediation statement that sets forth our side of the story for the mediator.  This helps save time at mediation.  Often times, I have found that the other side does not prepare a mediation statement.  I feel this gives my client a great advantage, as the mediator is starting the case with just our side of the story.

The vast majority of cases settle at mediation.   I have taken many cases to mediation that I thought could not be settled, and they have settled the majority of the time.  Even if a final settlement does not get reached, the parties can settle some of the issues to narrow down the issues for trial.

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Residency restrictions are extremely common in any order involving child custody in Texas, whether in a divorce decree or in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.  In Collin County, orders typically say the residence of the child is restricted to Collin County and the contiguous (surrounding) counties.  Similarly, Dallas County orders often restrict the residence of the child to Dallas County and the contiguous counties.  Occasionally, the parties will agree to a more specific residency restriction, such as one or two counties, a particular city, or even a particular school zone.

If one parent has been given the right to designate the primary residence, the residency restriction keeps that parent (and the child) within the boundaries of the order as long as the non-custodial parent is living within that area.  However, if the non-custodial parent moves from within those boundaries, the residency restriction is automatically lifted (under most orders) and the custodial parent is free to move anywhere with the child.

If neither parent has been given the right to designate the primary residence, a residency restriction will keep everyone within the designated boundaries.  In a split custody arrangement, the residency restriction is often more narrowly tailored so that both parents are close to the child’s school.

Residency restrictions are designed to keep both parents actively involved in the child’s life.  Generally, if one parent asks for a residency restriction, the court will grant it unless there is a very compelling reason not to.  Once the parties have a residency restriction, it can be very difficult to have it lifted unless the parties are in agreement.

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The first step in the divorce process in Texas is filing the Original Petition for Divorce.   One party (the Petitioner) files the petition and serves the other party (the Respondent).  If you expect the case to be relatively amicable, then I recommend using a waiver instead of serving the Respondent.  (Serving someone involves having the constable or a private process server find them and personally deliver the papers.)  With a waiver, you hand your spouse the petition along with a document called Waiver of Service.  The waiver basically says that the person acknowledges receiving a copy of the petition and does not want to be served.  Your spouse signs the waiver before a notary, and it is filed with the court.  (Our office usually handles that when the spouse of our client signs a waiver.)

In addition to the issues involved in divorces with no children (see post here), the additional issues that need to be resolved in a divorce with children are conservatorship, possession and access, and child support.  “Conservatorship” deals with the rights and duties of the parents.  “Possession and access” deals with the visitation schedule.  “Child support” includes standard child support and health insurance.

If the parties have already agreed to terms on all issues, then the next step is to prepare an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.   Once the decree is prepared, both parties (and their attorneys, if applicable) will sign the decree.  Once the sixty-day waiting period has passed, one party (usually the Petitioner) will “prove up” the divorce in court.  In Collin County, you can show up any day at almost any time and prove up a divorce in the Auxiliary Court.  In Dallas County, different courts have different days and times when they do prove up hearings.  You just show up at the most convenient time for the hearing during the prove up times.  (Of note, if you are handling a divorce without an attorney (“pro se”), Dallas County courts may have specific time slots for pro se litigants.)

If there are disputes about custody, child support, property or debt, discovery will be conducted.  Discovery can be done informally (where the attorneys simply ask each other for certain information or documents and hand it over) or formally (with written Interrogatories, Requests for Production, Requests for Admissions, depositions, etc.)  Some courts will order each side to prepare a sworn inventory and appraisement of property to help clarify the situation with regards to property and debt.  If there is a custody dispute, the court will most likely require a social study.  (You can read about social studies here – link).

Once the parties have completed discovery, the case will usually proceed to mediation if it cannot be settled informally.  At mediation, a neutral mediator goes back and forth between the parties to try and reach a settlement.  If the case does not settle at mediation, the case will proceed to trial.  The vast majority of cases settle, whether it be informally or at mediation.  Occasionally, a case will settle after mediation but before trial.

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As I mentioned in my post on temporary orders hearings in Collin County, temporary orders are needed fairly often in family law cases.  They address how property, custody and child support issues will be handled while the case is pending.

Temporary orders hearings in Dallas County are quite different from those in Collin County.  If your case is placed on the standard docket, you will be set at either 9:00 or 1:30 along with several other cases.  The judge will go through the docket and establish how long each hearing will take and prioritize the docket based on that information.  If your hearing will take too long, you will be specially set for another day.  If you are “specially set,” then your hearing will be the only hearing set during that time frame.

Dallas County courts do not typically set specific time limits for temporary orders hearings. However, if you tell the judge your hearing will last a certain amount of time, they will often hold you to that.   I have had temporary orders hearings last thirty minutes, and I have had temporary orders hearings last all day.  If I know a hearing will take longer than thirty minutes, I will try to get the hearing specially set right off the bat.  This will save time and money by eliminating the need to show up for a hearing where there will not be time for the judge to decide your issues.

The temporary orders hearing works much like a mini-trial.  The attorneys will usually give a brief opening statement.  Then the Movant (the party who brought the motion for temporary orders) will call witnesses.  The Movant’s attorney will ask direct examination questions and the other party’s attorney will cross examine the witnesses.  After the Movant has called all of its witnesses, the other party will call its witnesses.  When both sides are finished, the attorneys will give a brief closing statement.  The judge will then enter a ruling.  I always present the judge with a Summary of Relief Requested at the start of any temporary orders hearing.  This way the judge will know exactly what relief my client is requesting.

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The first step in the divorce process in Texas is filing the Original Petition for Divorce.   One party (the Petitioner) files the petition and serves the other party (the Respondent).  If you expect the case to be relatively amicable, then I recommend using a waiver instead of serving the Respondent.  (Serving someone involves having the constable or a private process server find them and personally deliver the papers.)  With a waiver, you hand your spouse the petition along with a document called Waiver of Service.  The waiver basically says that the person acknowledges receiving a copy of the petition and does not want to be served.  Your spouse signs the waiver before a notary, and it is filed with the court.  (Our office usually handles that when the spouse of our client signs a waiver.)

When there are no children involved, the issues that need to be resolved are the division of property and the division of debts.  If the parties have already agreed to terms on these issues (or if there is no property or debt to be divided), then the next step is to prepare an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.   Once the decree is prepared, both parties (and their attorneys, if applicable) will sign the decree.  Once the sixty-day waiting period has passed, one party (usually the Petitioner) will “prove up” the divorce in court.  In Collin County, you can show up any day at almost any time and prove up a divorce in the Auxiliary Court.  In Dallas County, different courts have different days and times when they do prove up hearings.  You just show up at the most convenient time for the hearing during the prove up times.  (Of note, if you are handling a divorce without an attorney (“pro se”), Dallas County courts may have specific time slots for pro se litigants.)

If there are disputes about property or debt, discovery will be conducted.  Discovery can be done informally (where the attorneys simply ask each other for certain information or documents and hand it over) or formally (with written Interrogatories, Requests for Production, Requests for Admissions, depositions, etc.)  Some courts will order each side to prepare a sworn inventory and appraisement of property to help clarify the situation.  There may also be discovery if one side is seeking a disproportionate share of the estate for any reason or if one party is seeking reimbursement.

Once the parties have completed discovery, the case will usually proceed to mediation if it cannot be settled informally.  At mediation, a neutral mediator goes back and forth between the parties to try and reach a settlement.  If the case does not settle at mediation, the case will proceed to trial.

The vast majority of cases settle, whether it be informally or at mediation.  Occasionally, a case will settle after mediation but before trial.

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