Family Court Proceedings and Processes: How they Work

Understanding the basics of a Texas family court case is the most important step you can take to gain competency and proficiency before ever thinking about filing your case. So many of our neighbors attempt to go through with a child custody or divorce case without knowing the first thing about the process. This would be like you or I trying to solve a complicated math problem without knowing the first thing about calculus. We could sit there for a million years and still not make any sense of the numbers written on the paper in front of us.

You do not want to put yourself in a position where you are staring at a stack of family court papers that you downloaded off the internet without a clue what to do with them. You may be able to learn, eventually, how to file your divorce but the factor that you may be leaving out of this scenario is time. Time has a way of rearing its ugly head when you least want it to. Time drags on when you are visiting your relative that you’re not particularly fond of. On the other hand, time seems to march quickly when we’re on vacation. Time is relative to what we are doing at that moment.

The truth is that you don’t have the luxury of being able to take your time in a divorce or child custody case. The circumstances of your life demand that you file a case efficiently, that you create manageable goals for yourself, and that you develop a plan to accomplish those goals. Your life will march on whether you want it to or not. Life does not go on “pause” because you have filed a child custody case. Everything that used to take up your time will still do so even if you are involved in a family law case.

Here’s what happens after that. We imagine a situation where suddenly become the most dedicated and focused person in the world. We can handle all matters related to our family law case in addition to matters related to our families, our work, our hobbies, and everything else going on in our lives. However, the reality is that it is difficult to make changes like that quickly. You may have aspirations to become the most focused person in the world, but it is unlikely that you will become that person overnight. Who you are at the beginning of your divorce is likely who you will be at the end. You can use divorce as a springboard to create a better person, but that process takes a long time.

For now, we are busy, flawed, and unfocused a lot of the time. You’re not a bad person or even someone who can’t focus when the motivation is there. However, a family law case is a serious business, and you have several other areas of your life that take up a great deal of your time and energy already. Adding a family law case on top of that may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Having the best of intentions is not enough in a family case. In fact, in the graveyard of failed family law cases, you will find the best of intentions scattered about the headstones. I’ve not yet heard of a family court judge who has patted a lawyer on the head after a missed deadline to tell them that it was ok since he or she had the best of intentions.

Rather, whether you will be hiring an attorney to help you push through your divorce or child custody case or not, you need all the help you can get to learn how a family law case progresses in Texas and what you need to do to help push the ball down the field as effectively as possible. Divorce and child custody cases generally follow the same trajectory and course no matter what the circumstances. However, it would be incorrect to say that you can follow the same advice and roadmap as your best friend who got divorced. Family law cases are unique because you are unique. Your children are unique. Your circumstances, not surprisingly, are also unique.

That is what makes family cases so challenging- you can’t just copy and paste someone else’s goals and strategy and use it as your own. What worked for your next-door neighbor may not work for you. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which may be that you and your neighbor have very different views on what “worked’ means in the context of a family law case. Your goals, circumstances, and everything in between may be much different than that of your neighbor. It would be foolish to simply look at what she did and settle for that.

Rather, you need to develop goals and just as importantly consider a strategy that can help you reach those goals. It is possible to have a positive experience in a family law case without the assistance of an attorney. People do it every day in Texas. There is no requirement in the Texas Family Code that you hire an attorney to file your case for you. However, there is good reason to believe that hiring an attorney can help you define your goals more clearly, lay out a plan of action more effectively, and generally proceed down the road to divorce with fewer distractions.

If you believe that you would like the assistance and guidance of experienced family law attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, please do not hesitate to contact us today. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week at our three Houston area office locations, over the phone, and via video. These consultations can allow you to learn more information about the family law case process in Texas. You may also gain some perspective on how important it is for you to have an attorney to ensure that your long-term future has a sunny outlook as opposed to the fog that you may find yourself in currently.

An example to illustrate our points on building a Texas family law case

Building a Texas family law case from the ground up is serious business. It is relatively easy to wander into a family law case, but it is very difficult to wander out of one with your life intact. When you consider that you may have children that are involved in this case it is even more important for you to have a vision for your case and the circumstances within it. To illustrate this point better let’s walk through a situation that may resemble your own to a certain extent.

Let’s suppose that you are pursuing a child custody or conservatorship case involving your son. There are basic steps that you will need to learn to get your case moving. By the same token, there are also certain elements of your case that are unique to you and your family. The sweet spot of a family law case is to learn those elements of your case that need to be accounted for while appreciating that your case needs to follow a certain path to accomplish your specific goals.

Prepare for your case

What are your options as you begin your Texas family law case? This is what you need to consider as you either plan to hire an attorney, negotiate informally with your spouse or investigate the process of filing documents yourself without the assistance of an attorney. Questions about your children will probably be the most important to you. Learn about the types of conservatorship designations and what they mean for your family.

Joint or sole managing conservatorships are the two designations that you and your co-parent may hold together. Either way, you will be sharing in the parenting relationship with your co-parent. The main difference is the extent to which you will hold rights to your child versus what your co-parent will hold. Time with your kids is important but rights and duties about your children are important, as well. Depending upon your circumstances and the needs of your child they may be even more important.

Think about the schedule that you have for work and what the needs of your children are. What does a possession schedule need to look like for you to be able to take advantage of the time that you have with your kids? Different families have different needs when it comes to coordinating time with the kids. A Standard Possession Order may sound like it makes sense for your family but if you have an atypical work schedule then it may not be in your best interests or that of your children. Think hard about what works out best for you and then decide what you would like to initially pursue as far as a custody schedule.

This is all done much more efficiently when you have an attorney to assist you. Specifically, an experienced family law attorney can help you to process what your situation is and what your goals need to be because of that situation. You may be able to learn the Texas Family Code backward and forward if you study hard for months and months. You may learn exactly what forms to file to proceed with your divorce. However, that’s just a part of a divorce in Texas.

The other part of a divorce that isn’t covered purely by book knowledge is learning how the law and your circumstances can interact not only presently but in the future. Consider that the experience of a family law attorney is not something that you will be able to replicate no matter how hard you try. This is what you are missing when you do not hire an attorney to represent you in a divorce. I mention this not to intimidate you or to pressure you into hiring an attorney. I tell you this as a way of sharing basic information about divorce.

Having an attorney is an advantage for you. Instead of learning everything, there is ever to know about Texas family law, having an attorney can help provide you with the knowledge that you need about your case. Remember back in high school or college when you would have a final exam after the semester? Do you recall how long your notes would be once you were a few days away from the exam? It was daunting to think about learning each piece of information contained in those notes, even though you knew the teacher wouldn’t be able to test you on every single aspect of those notes.

This is where having an attorney comes in handy. Imagine if someone would have been able to sit with you at your desk back in school and highlight the specific portion of your notes that were going to be included in your exam. The time that you could have saved would have been unimaginable. The stress that would have been relieved since you would have been able to find out exactly what you needed to succeed in your exam cannot be second-guessed. As a result, you could have saved time and scored better on your exam.

This is not a perfect comparison to hiring an attorney for your family law case, but I think it is close. The simple truth is that by hiring an attorney you can minimize the time that you spent studying material that simply was not relevant to your case. Learning each detail about discovery in a divorce when you and your spouse have no property or children probably isn’t necessary. However, if you read in a blog that discovery is a critical element in some divorce cases you may go ahead and spend days learning about discovery. Meanwhile, the chances of you or your spouse serving discovery requests upon the other person are slim to none.

Imagine what you could have been doing with your time had you not devoted so much of it to learning about an issue that had no relevance to your case. It is frustrating to think about to be sure, but it is nonetheless a reality for many people who go through a family law case without the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. However, this does not have to be you. Rather, you have an opportunity to hire an attorney and to benefit from having done so.

Filing your family law case

Once you have made up your mind on whether to file a case in the first place and to hire an attorney the next step involved in the family law case process is to move forward and file your case. Whether it is a suit affecting the parent-child relationship or a divorce you need to file the case to get the process off the ground. Otherwise, you risk putting yourself in a situation where you are continually going back and forth about whether to begin the case. Meanwhile, the problems that have you considering whether to file in the first place are still rearing their ugly heads.

Once you file your petition you will need to serve notice to your opposing party. Unless he or she is willing to waive their right to receive personal service of the lawsuit you cannot simply get a copy of your documents and hand them over to him or her. Rather, you will need to hire a private process server, constable, or other law enforcement officer to physically pick up the documents in addition to a citation and then serve your opposing party personally.

Depending upon what you think your opposing party is capable of in the divorce you may want to consider filing for a temporary restraining order. This will tell you and your opposing party what you can and cannot do during your case. A TRO lasts for up to 14 days or possibly up to 28 days if you ask for and are granted an extension of the order.

You would then set up a temporary order hearing with a judge to have your temporary orders considered. Before that, however, most Texas courts will require you to attend temporary orders mediation. Even if you choose to go without an attorney, it is a great idea to read up on what mediation is and the benefits that it can confer upon you and your opposing party. When you attend mediation, you put yourself in control of the process. This is not the norm for a family law case as you are very rarely in the driver’s seat. Take the power away from others and put it squarely in your lap and that of your opposing party by attending mediation.

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