What is a Bill of Review and what impact can it have on a Texas family law case?

If you were involved in a civil case in Texas and are not happy with the result, you have options to seek a new trial. The most widely known option is to file a motion for new trial. In the event that you had a default judgment rendered against you this would be the preferred option.

Courts in Texas do not like judgments against people based on their not having participated in the initial case so if filed within thirty days of the signing of the judgment it is likely you would be able to get your new trial and fresh bite at the apple.

An equitable bill of review is a similar post-trial method of attempting to secure a new trial. A bill of review may be filed any time after four months before four years have elapsed since the judgment was signed by the judge.

An exception to this four year requirement exists when and if you are able to prove that fraud caused the prior judgment to be entered. For example, if you are able to show a judge that you were lied to by the opposing party and chose not to show up to a trial based on that lie you may be able to win your bill of review hearing even after four years has elapsed.

What do you need to show in order to win a Bill of Review motion?

There is set standard in Texas law which states what is necessary to win a Bill of Review hearing. However, if we look to what needs to be proved in a Motion for New Trial we will have a pretty good understanding of what a court will be looking for in a Bill of Review petition. They are:

  1. A meritorious defense to the cause of action alleged, or a meritorious ground for new trial or appeal, or a meritorious claim
  2. Which the Petitioner was prevented from making by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party, or by official mistake
  3. Unmixed with the Petitioner’s own fault or negligence. Caldwell v. Barnes, 154 S.W.3d 93, 96 (Tex. 2004)

The standard is pretty cut and dry in one regard: your own fault at not being able to present your claim or defense in the first trial could not have been caused in any way by your own fault or negligence. You must prove that you truly were the victim of some wrongdoing in this regard.

Bill of Reviews are difficult motions to win in a courtroom

If by reading the elements of proving a successful Bill of Review and my own short interpretation hasn’t been enough to clue you in, you should realize that winning a Bill of Review petition is exceedingly difficult.

For starters, our state’s public policy is to allow final judgments to remain final. If every judgment from every civil court in our state were easily appealable or could be overturned by the mere filing of a motion there would be little stability in our judicial system and in our society at large.

A word (or two) on what an official mistake means

If you go back to the elements that must be proved for your Bill of Review case to be successful, you will note that the second element notes that you could have been prevented from making your meritorious claim or defense “by official mistake”. What exactly is an official mistake?

An official mistake would more than likely be a mistake made by an officer of the court in the performance of their official duties, more often, the clerk of the court.

Alexander v. Hagedorn, 226 S.W.2d at 999 (Tex. 1950). A clerk has a duty to inform parties to a case of any orders related to a case, but not necessarily a status of what is happening. Relying on a clerk to update you about what is happening with an old case you are involved in is not a smart move.

Perhaps the most notable responsibility that a clerk has insofar as your family law case may be concerned is providing you notice of any order or judgment that has been rendered by a court. Your ability to appeal or file a motion for new trial is time sensitive and not being told of any new order by the court’s clerk is an official mistake.

County and District clerks in Texas will send out automatic updates on your case prior to trial. These updates will inform you of any recent documents filed and any instances where the judge has signed an order for final or temporary orders. This is done I would imagine to satisfy the basic requirement to keep parties up to date on any order that may be appealed down the line.

With as many cases as the courts are responsible for in Southeast Texas, it is possible to imagine a scenario where a clerk makes a mistake and a party is harmed as a result. A bill of review would need to stand as the only remedy available in order to pursue one based on the mistake of a court clerk.

Fraud by the opposing party and official mistake stand as the two most likely grounds to file for a bill of review in your Texas family law case. Tomorrow, we will review a situation from the Houston area involving a family lawcase and a bill of review that was filed in response to a judgment made in that case.

Additional questions on Bill of Reviews? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you are in a position where you believe that a Bill of Review needs to be filed on your behalf please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.

Our office has experience in these matters and would be honored to walk you through the process in greater detail than we can explain in a blog post. Consultations are free of charge and are available six days a week.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Spring Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Spring, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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