Understanding How Texas Courts Make Decisions in Divorce Cases

Texas courts make decisions in divorce cases in a variety of different ways. An interesting aspect of family law cases in general, and divorces specifically, are that judges will make decisions not only based on the Texas Family Code but also based upon prior court decisions as well as their own experiences as a judge. This is because judges must be able to consider the circumstances in front of them and apply the law to those circumstances. So, a judge may rule one way for your family and then make a slightly different ruling for another family. The reason for this is that family law cases are incredibly fact specific and require the judge to make rulings based on the individual circumstances of your family which are extremely unique.

This is why it is so difficult to expect another person to give you a clear-cut preview of what your divorce is going to be like. Every person who has been through a divorce has an opinion about their court, the judge, their ex-spouse, and the case in general. The case took too long! Their attorney wasn’t prepared! Their attorney charged them with an arm and a leg! They got a great deal! They got a terrible deal! The list goes on and on of what another person could have experienced in a divorce case. If you talk to enough people about their divorce experience, you will hear enough about the process to make you consider staying married if only to avoid the divorce.

Make no mistake- people do exactly that. You will find people who have been separated from their spouse- emotionally, physically, and relationally- for many years who are still married. These folks will not consider themselves to be married and may have even started new lives with new significant others. However, they are still very much legally married to their spouse. Because they have moved on mentally and emotionally it can feel like they have ended their marriages as a result. Better to maintain the status quo than go through all the trouble of getting a divorce, right?

Wrong. A divorce is a necessary step for many spouses who have stopped living in union with one another and no longer see a viable path forward for the marital relationship. Rather than delaying the inevitable and keeping your head buried in the sand, I would offer to you that there is a different path forward that you can take which would benefit you and your family. Getting divorced is not fun but it can be the best thing for you if you are ready to take on the responsibility of a case and what it means. Rather than remaining married because other people have told you how horrible a divorce is, consider that their experience may not be the same as yours. Experiences vary in a situation where their life is completely different than your own. 

That is the main thrust of the point I am trying to make about deciding to get divorced. Just because a friend or co-worker, or many friends and coworkers for that matter, have told you that their life has been difficult because of getting a divorce does not mean that the case and your post-divorce life will mirror theirs. Facts are important in divorce cases. Circumstances matter. You cannot expect that your friend’s divorce is going to look like yours, and vice versa. You can consider what other people tell you about their experiences without if your case will look exactly like yours. 

If you are having serious thoughts about divorce, then you have many options on how to proceed. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is the most important step that you can take to prepare for a divorce, in my opinion. Our law practice has three Houston area locations- Houston, Humble, and Kingwood. Each of our locations was designed to cater to the needs of our clients who are in different parts of our community. Whether you are someone who wants to file for divorce immediately or are just looking for information, sitting down with one of our attorneys is a great place for you to be. 

We can listen to you talk about your circumstances that are leading up to the divorce. Did you know that it is easy to misevaluate a circumstance or to make an incorrect assumption about what you are going through just because you rely upon something incorrect that another person has told you about your divorce? Do not take at face value everything another person has told you about your divorce. Rather, you should consider that what the person has to tell you may be helpful but is not necessarily so. Their life is different than yours and you cannot simply copy and paste their experience onto your upcoming experience. Your case will be different because you are an individual who is facing something unique to your and your spouse’s life together. 

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan offers free of charge consultations six days a week. A consultation can happen at our office locations, over the phone, or via video. We want to make it easy for you to be able to move forward with a case at your own pace. If you have your ducks in a row and need to hire us to file your case tomorrow, we can do that. Our attorneys aim to file an Original Petition for Divorce within 24-48 hours after a client signs up with our office for a divorce. We move quickly and do not want to make mistakes that can delay or hinder the success of your case. 

Or you may be in a position where you are just sorting through the different circumstances of your life and would prefer to take your time to think about your options before moving forward with a divorce. You may be someone who has been going to counseling with their spouse and are not clear yet on whether that counseling is making a difference. That can take time especially when you are facing issues in your marriage that are significant. Our attorneys are not going to run into anything with you. The ball is in your court. We are here to listen to your circumstances, answer questions and give perspective about the next steps that you may encounter on your road to divorce. Speaking with one of our attorneys does not establish an attorney-client relationship but it can be a first step towards positioning yourself to make a firm decision on moving forward in a divorce. 

Next, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan has on our team a group of financial ambassadors and client experience liaisons whose goal are to help each of our clients experience the best possible service when it comes to hiring an attorney from our office. We want to make clear that our law practice puts you as a client first. It is not easy to go through a divorce. Your mind is probably going in a million directions all at once. To help you sort things out our financial ambassadors will discuss what a contract looks like with our office as well as how to hire an attorney from our office to represent you. All the different parts of a contract will be made available for you to see just how straightforward it is to hire our office to represent you in a divorce. It may feel like nothing is straightforward when it comes to a legal case, but we hope to make the hiring of an attorney one aspect of your case that is simple. 

With all of that said, we hope that you will reach out to us if you have any questions about the material that you are about to read. This information is intended to help a wide variety of people sort through a divorce experience so if you have specific issues or situations that you would like to discuss with an attorney, please do not hesitate to ask us for something. We strive every day- both inside and outside the courtroom- to present ourselves as welcoming and competent legal representatives for our clients. We would work the same way for you and your family should you choose to place your trust in us as your attorney. 

The Texas Family Code

The Texas Family Code contains a majority of the statutes that pertain to divorce cases in Texas. Whether you are facing an issue related to child custody, child support, visitation, possession, community property division, or something different entirely, we want you to be able to know that the Texas Family Code is the source of the statutes that will make a difference in your case. You can access the Texas Family Code online for free if you want to look through the code book for something. Many times, the code will contain laws that will almost certainly be followed in your case. 

For example, the Texas Family Code contains a breakdown of how child support can be calculated in circumstances where you and your spouse have a minor child together. When you consider that 20% of a parent’s net monthly income should go towards child support for one child you can have a better idea of what to expect when it comes to you either paying or receiving child support. That percentage goes up five percent for each additional child before the court. There is a cap at 50% of your income where no more than half of what you take home each month can be allotted towards child support. Additionally, you can receive a 2.5% reduction in your child support responsibilities for every child that you are responsible for who is not in front of the court on this divorce

These guideline levels of child support can be found in the Texas Family Code. If you are a parent concerned with your budget after the divorce you can look through these statutes to learn more about what you are likely to encounter in a post-divorce life as far as your budget and child support is concerned. In a time where every one of us is concerned to an extent about our budgets and finances, you can gain some understanding and perspective on your divorce by learning about what money could be coming in or going out in child support, depending upon your parenting role. 

Judge-made law (appellate court precedent)

In some circumstances, spouses that go through a divorce do not agree with the decisions made by their family court (also known as a trial court in the legal world). The trial court issued decisions in a divorce that went into a final decree of divorce. However, it is still a possibility that you can get a second bite at the apple in your divorce by appealing a decision from your trial court to an appellate court. In Texas, fourteen appellate courts can hear cases. The Houston area is so large that the first and the fourteenth district appellate courts are devoted to just our area. If you choose to, you can appeal the results of your divorce. 

When you appeal your divorce, the case goes before an appellate court for your jurisdiction. That court would review the facts of your case, the evidence presented, and the decisions of the lower court. It can choose to do one of three things: 1) do nothing and maintain the lower court decision 2) tell the lower court it made a mistake and send the case back to them related to a particular issue or 3) it can issue decisions itself and not send the case back to the lower court. 

In making these decisions the appellate courts have their thought process and reasoning written down into legal decisions that are collected. This is what is known as precedent in the legal world. When a novel issue is decided by an appellate court a lower court like a family court is bound to follow that decision. Failing to follow a high court decision puts a trial court in a position where they can easily have their decision overturned on appeal. This is not something most family court judges want to go through so you are more likely to find a judge that will stick to what the precedent says in a certain area- assuming that he or she is aware of that precedent. 

One of the most important “judge-made” laws that you may encounter in your divorce is regarding what is in the best interests of a minor child. The standard that a court must follow when making decisions like this is what is in the best interests of your child. The best interests of the child standard are discussed in a well-known appellate court case in Texas, Holley v. Holley. The Holley case goes through the individual criteria of what a court should be thinking of when it makes a best-interest determination. These are not hard and fast rules by any means, but for the most part family court judges will look to these Holley criteria when making decisions for a minor child. 

Your specific circumstances

Finally, a judge will rely upon the specific circumstances of your case to make decisions for you and your family. It is not an easy thing for a judge to have to apply the Texas Family Code and prior court decisions to individual circumstances but that is exactly what he or she is called to do. We know that your life is not the same as anyone else’s. For that reason, a court cannot use the same decision that is issued for someone’s divorce last week and apply it to your case this week. Rather, it must consider you, your spouse, and your child’s best interests when issuing decisions on your case. 

Keep in mind that you and your spouse have the ultimate authority when making decisions in your divorce. Most Texas divorces end not in the courtroom but in the mediation room. Mediation allows you and your spouse to exert a great amount of control over the outcome of your case by negotiating with one another in a structured environment. This is in addition to the informal settlement negotiations that have been ongoing in your case throughout the process. Do not assume that once you file for divorce that a judge is the one who will make decisions that are final for you, your spouse, and your children. Rather, even after you file for divorce you two will be given ample opportunity to see if you can put your heads together to settle before you ever need to give a judge the ability to issue orders in your case. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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