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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 a new trial. If 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. Hence, if filed within thirty days of the signing of the decision, 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 securing a new trial. A review statement may be filed any time after four months before four years have elapsed since the judge signed the judgment.

An exception to this four-year requirement exists when and if you can prove that fraud caused the prior judgment to be entered. For example, if you can 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 to win a Bill of Review motion?

Texas law has a set standard that states what is necessary to win a Bill of Review hearing. However, if we look at 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 worthy 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 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 fault for not being able to present your claim or defense in the first trial could not have been caused in any way by your fault or negligence. You must prove that you indeed were the victim of some wrongdoing in this regard.

Bill of Reviews are complex motions to win in a courtroom

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

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

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

Suppose you go back to the elements that must be proved for your Bill of Review case to be successful. In that case, you will note that the second element reports 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 court clerk.

Alexander v. Hagedorn, 226 S.W.2d at 999 (Tex. 1950). A clerk must inform parties 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 issue 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 in providing you notice of any order or judgment that a court has rendered. Your ability to appeal or file a motion for a new trial is time-sensitive, and not being told of any new order by the court’s clerk is an official mistake.

In Texas, county and District clerks will send out automatic updates on your case before trial. These updates will inform you of any recent documents filed and instances where the judge has signed an order for final or temporary orders. This is done, I would imagine, to satisfy the essential 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. A bill of review would need to stand as the only remedy available to pursue one based on a court clerk’s error.

Fraud by the opposing party and official mistake stand as the two most reasonable 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 law case and a statement of thought filed in response to a judgment made in that case.

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

If you are in a position where you believe that a Bill of Review needs to be filed on your behalf, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC.

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, PLLC | Spring Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it’s essential 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 the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, 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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