Once you go to family court for a matter involving a minor child it is likely your hope that you never have to go through the process again. The emotions, time, and cost of a family court case are immense especially when you consider what it takes to plan for and accomplish goals with the case itself. However, it can be a rewarding feeling to have gone through the family case and have something tangible that can positively impact the life of your child. When you make it through a family law case those court orders are what you base the success of your case on. Do the court orders benefit your child and your relationship with him or her? Time will tell.
Modifications of a family court order
It is almost a sure thing that at some point in time after your initial family law case has completed itself you will be in a position there is a need to go back to court. For example, circumstances change. People change. Your child is going to change and develop and (hopefully) mature. This means that the likelihood the court orders that were issued to you a few years ago are not going to fit your family as well as they did in those days. Think about the lanky teen having to fit his tall frame into a suit for church that stopped fitting him 6 months ago. The pant legs don't quite cover his ankles. The sleeves are too tight on his forearms. That is what can happen, metaphorically, to your court order from the family law case. It doesn't quite fit anymore.
In this situation, you may need to go back to court and request a change or a modification. A modification occurs when you believe that an order contained in your prior family court orders is so out of date and unworkable that you need to formally have that changed by a judge. The legal term is a "material and substantial" change, and this is the burden that you will have to clear to modify an existing child custody order. The material and substantial change must be found and then the case will come down to whether the proposed change you are trying to make is in the best interests of your child in the eyes of the family court judge.
Enforcing a family court order
On the other hand, even if your court order does not need to be modified at some point after it is issued then there is a distinct possibility that the order will need to be enforced. This happens when your co-parent (or you) violates the terms of the family court order in some way. There are varying degrees of violations, to say the least. For example, if your co-parent drops your child off 5 minutes late consistently after her periods of visitation then this is technically a violation of your court orders. However, the difference between a violation of your court orders and an annoyance is in the eye of the beholder. It is probably not something that you will go to court over where your ex-spouse to do something like this- even consistently.
On the other hand, if your co-parent consistently keeps your child overnight an extra night or otherwise interferes with your periods of possession then this is a much more significant violation of the court orders and maybe something that you seek to hold her accountable for. It is unlikely that she would stop doing these things on her own so going to court on enforcement is probably the best way to address the situation. You can enforce the court order by filing a motion for enforcement and specifying the instances in that your co-parent has violated the order. If a judge agrees with your position(s), you can ask the court for relief such as attorney's fees, extra time with your child, and things of this nature. Holding your co-parent accountable for their actions is the name of the game when it comes to an enforcement case.
What to do when you need to enforce or modify a judgment in Texas with an out-of-state order?
All of this is fine and dandy, but the question that we are going to be asking ourselves here on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is what you can do if you have a court order from another state and need to file a modification or enforcement case in Texas. It would seem impractical for you to need to file your modification or enforcement back in your prior state. So, that would leave you needing to figure out how to handle a case like this in Texas in the Texas family courts. Is this something that you can do? We will discuss this today.
If you have any questions after having read 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.
What does registering a foreign (out-of-state) order do for you and your family, potentially?
When registering an out-of-state family court order in a Texas family court means that the court may be able to enforce or modify those orders. We are going to walk through the steps that are required for you to register your foreign order with the Texas court here. There are a few documents that you will need to gather before engaging in the registration process. There is a process to follow and if you can follow that process you will be in good shape as far as getting your orders registered in Texas.
First, you will need a letter or other document that states you are requesting that your out-of-state court order be registered in Texas. This could be something as simple as an affidavit in your own words describing what your circumstances are/were and going through what you seek to accomplish by registering this out-of-state court order. Providing detail and specifics as much as possible can help a judge better understand what you are asking for. Ultimately the judge would like to be able to help you if he or she has the authority to do so.
Included in your affidavit needs to be an affirmation that to the best of your knowledge, the order that you are seeking to modify or enforce has not previously been modified in some way. This could be through a formal court process or modified within the document itself by you or your co-parent. The court wants to verify the authenticity of the order and as a result, you are going to give a sworn statement as to the authenticity of the order that you are submitting to the court in Texas.
Two copies of the court order that you are seeking to register need to be provided to the Texas court at the time you submit your order for registration. One of those copies needs to be a certified copy of the order. A certified copy comes directly from the county or district clerk of the jurisdiction who issued your court order initially. You can call the courthouse and ask to speak to the person who handles matters related to certified copies of court orders. A certified copy is more expensive than a typical copy. Finally, you will also need a regular copy of the court order. These days you can usually just pay for a copy of the court orders that you need and then they can be submitted electronically to the court in Texas that you are seeking registration.
Finally, you will need to list the name and address of any party to the court order that you are attempting to register. This would be a co-parent in most situations but could also be another conservator or even the authority from another state who oversees the payment of child support. In Texas that would be the Office of the Attorney General-Child Support Division. You would need to look through the court order that you are attempting to register to find out the information for all parties to the case. Usually, at the beginning of a court order, you will find the name, address, and other information for a party to your case listed there.
How do you register an out-of-state child support order in Texas?
We have already mentioned how you need a certified copy of your out-of-state order to register it in Texas. You will need that certified copy of your child support order or the income withholding order from the out-of-state court. In Texas, the income withholding order is known as a wage withholding order. This order tells your or your co-parent's employer to withhold wages of a certain amount during specific intervals of time. Your order may require your co-parent's employer to withhold money from each of his paychecks or the order may instruct the employer to withhold money from only one paycheck. Either way, the order that provides the authority for the money to be withheld must be provided to the Texas court in the form of a certified copy. You will know that it is a certified copy because it will have an endorsement, certificate, seal, or stamp marked on the order.
Once you have collected this certified copy then you will need to figure out what court in Texas you need to register the order in. Wherever your child has resided for the prior six months is where you will need to register this order. You will need to figure out if that jurisdiction has a county or district clerk with whom the foreign order will need to be registered to. When you determine where to register the order the next step in the process will be to prepare a letter requesting registration and enforcement of the court order. Your name and that of your co-parent along with your addresses and other contact information should be included in the letter. Your co-parent’s employer information (or yours if you are the parent who is paying child support) should also be included in the letter.
Will your co-parent be notified of your having registered the order in a Texas court?
Once you have completed the above steps and have provided the necessary order copies to the judge then you will have successfully registered your foreign court order in Texas. Any person or entity listed in the letter will be provided notice of your having registered the foreign order. By providing him or her notice of the foreign order having been registered then he or she will have the opportunity to contest that registration. Your co-parent has the right to request a hearing to contest the validity of the registered out-of-state order within 20 days after the notice has been served on him or her. This is their one "bite at the apple" and as a result, it would be in their best interests to contest the registration now rather than lose the right to do so in the future.
What will happen if your co-parent contests the registration of the out-of-state order in Texas?
When a hearing is held on a contested registration the court will ultimately register the order unless your co-parent can come forward and prove specific facts that are relevant to a registration case. First, he or she will need to be able to show that the court that issued the original orders did not have jurisdiction to do so. Jurisdiction is an issue that can be challenged at any time in Texas and the same rule applies to challenging the registration of an out-of-state court order.
Or your co-parent could try and prove that the order has been vacated (set aside) or modified by a court that did have jurisdiction. The other way that a proper contest could occur is if your co-parent can successfully argue that he or she was not afforded proper notice as stated in the Texas Family Code for out-of-state residents.
Are there any fees or costs associated with registering a foreign family court order?
There will be a cost to purchase a certified copy of your registered court order. The jurisdiction that registered your court order will be able to tell you how much it costs to purchase the item and what a certified copy will cost you. There are also filing fees associated with the Texas County where registration has occurred. Let's say, for example, that you may need to pay for copies or pay to have your Co-parent served with court papers.
If you are registering your custody order and then requesting a modification of the order at the same time you are registering the order, then you are going to have to pay filing fees for those lawsuits as well. Typically, there is a fee schedule listed on the website for the court that you seek to register your court order in. You should familiarize yourself with these fees. You may qualify to have court fees waived because of your being indigent or having an extremely low income.
Can you keep it a secret that you are in Texas and attempting to register this court order?
You may have moved to Texas with your child and not told your co-parent to protect your or your child's safety. The law in Texas is that you must share your current address and contact information with your co-parent. However, the law in Texas also says that if you must provide your contact information to your co-parent and this would cause you to be at a significant risk of harassment or harm then you may not have to do so under a statute contained in the Texas family code. In most circumstances, the law in Texas will require you to share and update your Co-parent with your current home address, mailing address, phone numbers, the name of your employer as well as your work telephone number.
If you and your children have moved to Texas and have been living in this state for at least six months, then Texas has jurisdiction over your family law case. Jurisdiction means that the court will have the authority to hear and decide issues related to your family law case. The specific county where your children have lived for the past six months is where the venue is proper for 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 circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.