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How your case will be managed in a Texas family law court

In yesterday's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we introduced the topic of how your case will be handled by the judge whose court your case has been assigned to. You need to know ahead of time that the judge will view your case based on what is in the best interests of raising your child. Their age, developmental needs and other factors specific to your family will be utilized in order to help the judge decide important issues like where your child will reside primarily and how much visitation time to allow the other parent.

That is the meat and potatoes of family law cases in Texas. Judges have some factors that they should look to when determining the best interest of your child but also have a great deal of latitude to make decisions in your child custody case. In most cases, the decisions that a judge must make are difficult ones because it is likely that you and your opposing party are not dissimilar in terms of your "cases." By this, I mean that there probably is not drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence or another outlying factor apparent. If we are just talking about two parents that do not agree on various issues when raising your child but are generally good parents then the judge will have a tough time to make a decision one way or the other.

In today’s blog post we will discuss how a judge will manage your child custody case. The order of events, the length of the case and how the judge treats you and your opposing party are all important considerations that frankly not many people who go through these sorts of cases will really ask about ahead of time. I do my best to counsel clients on this subject so that when the judge decides to do (or not do) something it will not catch you by surprise.

Fair and balanced, balanced and fair

The odds are decent that if your child custody case makes it all the way to court for a temporary orders hearing or trial that it is fair to say that yours is a case with a fair amount of conflict. This doesn’t have to mean that you and your opposing party are at each other’s throats but that isn’t necessarily ruled out, either. The vast majority of Texas family law cases settle in mediation or in informal settlement negotiation sessions so to buck that trend means that there is likely a deep-seated disagreement on a fundamental issue of your case.

From a judge’s perspective, their objective is to render decisions that are in the best interests of your child. Note that I did not say that the judge is going to try to make both you and the other parent happy. Or that the judge’s decisions will be “fair.” There is nothing in the Texas Family Code that mandates that a judge has to make decisions along these lines. I’ve also never seen a judge ask either party to a case whether or not a decision suits them. The fact is that your best interests are not at the forefront of the judge’s mind when he or she is weighing their options.

If and when you and your opposing party enter the courtroom for a hearing or trial the judge will absolutely do their best to ensure that both you and your opposing party have a fair opportunity to present your respective cases. This is done by you and your opposing parties (and your attorneys) acting respectfully toward one another as well as courtroom personnel- notably the judge. Obviously, this is not always accomplished, given the high stakes and emotions that are inherent in family law cases.

Minimize hostility in order to properly manage your case

You and your child’s other parent have some degree of hostility between the two of you. If this statement were not true then you would not be sitting in a courtroom staring at a judge. You would not be prepared to spend at least a day in court and probably more. You also would not be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees in order to have a complete stranger make important decisions in your child’s and your lives.

So, the hostility between you and your opposing party not only has had an impact on your legal case but it is also having an impact on your child whether you see it or not. It is not a stretch for me to say that children, no matter their age, that are exposed to hostility between their parents are more likely to behave poorly and exhibit negative characteristics that are associated with a hostile environment at home.

The last thing that a judge will want to do is to take whatever amount of hostility there already is between you and your opposing party and increase it by fanning the flames in the courtroom. While it is unavoidable to an extent, the judge will do everything he or she can to direct emotions towards the case and away from personal attacks and hostility. The longer your case goes and the angrier that you and your opposing party become the worse of an effect it will likely have on your child.

Overall, your judge will likely approach your case just like any other that comes before their bench. The overall objectives that judges have in mind when you first step into their courtroom is to treat you and your opposing party fairly, dispose of your case in a timely fashion, do their best to ensure that the hearing or trial allows both sides to get the most possible out of the experience and to generally speaking engender good feelings towards the legal system as a result of your experience in the courtroom.

Your judge will want the truth

Ultimately your judge will go to whatever lengths necessary to come to the truth in your case. This could mean that if you and your opposing party do not submit enough evidence for a judge to ascertain the truth he or she may end up asking questions that allow him or her to learn more about your family and your circumstances. It can also mean that if necessary he can appoint amicus and/or ad litem attorneys to your case in order to allow for information to be gathered regarding your parenting strengths and weaknesses that he or she could not ascertain solely from courtroom testimony or behavior.

How your judge will make sure that the parties in your case treat each other with respect

It would be the easiest thing in the world for you to treat your opposing party poorly during the case. Exchanging nasty glances, speaking poorly of the other person while you are testifying or directing your attorney to ask overly invasive, irrelevant questions of him or her are just a few of the ways that come to mind as far as simple ways to abuse your opposing party and abuse the legal process in so doing.

Your judge will likely be agreeable and amiable to an extent, but keep in mind that he or she has a job to do and is not there to come up as too friendly. Their insistence on being fair and acting respectfully in the courtroom will be intended to rub off on both parties and their attorneys.

People going through divorce or child custody matters are not themselves. There is a switch that is flipped in the minds of many people who are going through a divorce or child custody case that happens at the very beginning. From then on their normal way of approaching problems can be completely thrown off which can cause a great deal of hostility and acrimony in the case. Your lawyer can be guilty of picking up on this hostility and can even treat the other attorney similarly. All of this is a bad combination if a judge wants to maintain courtroom civility.

As a result, your judge will be as much psychiatrist as fact finder. The bottom line in your case is the judge will have to determine how much of the hostility between you and the other party can be solely attributed to your case and how much is just your personalities shining through. The best family court judges are ones that are sympathetic to both parties, listen well but are in the end firm and demanding of a high degree of respect and civility between parties.

Your judge will be listening closely so be careful how you testify and what you testify to

Imagine being a judge with the responsibility to decide the future of a family like yours. Don’t you think that you would be paying very close attention to what you and the other party has to say? I think that you would. Keep this in mind as you respond to questions from your attorney and from the opposing attorney in your case.

In the end, the judge is a problem solver. You and your opposing party have a series of problems that you were not able to solve without the assistance of a judge. Your judge is now having to step in and solve the problems for you. It would be hard enough for the judge to do this sitting at your kitchen table with the two of you, but he is now having to pick sides after a long and contentious hearing or trial.

To do even a decent job of judging your case, he or she will listen more than you probably would anticipate. The judge in a hearing or trial will be quieter in most cases than judges you see on television or in movies. The reason being is that the judge does not set the pace of the hearing or trial- you and your opposing party does. He or she cannot control what it is that you testify to unless something disrespectful, unnecessary or otherwise disrespectful of the court, judge or opposing party is stated.

At the very least your judge will address hostility in the courtroom and will ensure that it does not occur any longer. Given the relatively short amount of time that you will be spending in court, he or she may not be able to address that hostility directly in order to find a cause but I have seen some judges do their best to put on their counselor hats and attempt to do just that.

Controlling anger and outbursts from parties

The last thing I would like to mention today is that it is not uncommon for either you or your opposing party to be verbally demonstrative in the courtroom. You may be sitting at home reading this blog and find yourself unable to envision a scenario where you acted in such a way. Let me be the first to tell you that I have seen mild-mannered people act this way in court. Anything is possible when a person has been pushed past their limits in regard to their child.

Your judge will be firm in redirecting a person’s energy away from such behavior and will be ready to state clearly that finding a person in contempt of courtroom rules is a possible result if the behavior is repeated.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas 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 important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Houston 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, 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 Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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