So much was happening in our lives just weeks ago: kids were looking forward to spring break, there were elections for every office from President to dogcatcher, financial markets were soaring, family law attorneys were helping their clients, and we were an optimistic people.
Then it all stopped.
And sadly, we were all surprised.
We do a better job of preparing for a coming cold front than we did preparing for a pandemic that had been stalking us for months.
If you’re in a family law case, the impact on your life has been especially troubling: your life was already in transition, your future was already in flux, and peace of mind was in short supply.
Now you have a new set of concerns, all from an invisible and unpredictable force.
What You Need to Know About Family Law During the Crisis
Courts across Texas, from the Supreme Court of Texas to Tarrant County Family Courts, have been working to both protect lawyers and the public while implementing alternative ways to conduct court business during the crisis.
Tarrant County Family Courts Remain Closed
Tarrant County Family Courts have been closed since March 13, 2020 and remain closed.
While a reopening had been planned for April 1, 2020, this seems unlikely given overriding Shelter in Place Orders.
Hearings Have Been Postponed But Not Reset
All final trials and temporary orders hearings have been postponed, which has created an overwhelming situation for court staff and attorneys.
Depending on the relative urgency of your family law case, it may not be rescheduled for several months.
Family Judges are Available to Address Emergencies
Most filings are e-filed and ruled upon by submission of facts.
Child Custody Orders Remain in Place
Prior orders providing for parenting time (also referred to as possession or visitation - - terms I hate) remain in effect.
To be clear, Shelter in Place Orders DO NOT serve as a basis for denying a parent court-ordered parenting time with his or her child.
Child Support Orders Remain in Place
The days ahead are not going to be easy and let’s not look directly into the abyss that lies ahead for our economy - not right now.
If you’ve lost a job or your income has dipped, remember your prior child support orders do not modify themselves to account for hard times.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General is monitoring your child support payments, so pay what you can if you can’t pay all your child support, then seek to modify your prior support order.
Judges, Lawyers, and Mediators Hope to Begin Videoconferencing
As Shelter in Place continues in effect, expect to see the family law community try - emphasis on “try” - videoconferencing to get things done.
Of course, the rules governing trials and hearings in family court contemplate face-to-face interactions in a courtroom, not people in pajamas on their laptops.
Still, videoconferencing may help courts keep cases moving - somewhat.
Don't Need A Courtroom to Settle Your Case – If You Know How
Lawyers call it “alternative dispute resolution” which is alive and well even in a pandemic.
You can still participate in a mediation, by video conference, or do a settlement conference with the help of your family law attorney.
This is an ideal time to think about what is important to you in the months ahead and see if you can’t put your family case on a path to settlement!
Schreier & Housewirth Family Law
1329 College Avenue, Suite 100
Fort Worth TX 76104
Gregory L. Housewirth is a Board-Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Fort Worth, Texas. With 30 years’ family law experience, Mr. Housewirth has represented hundreds of clients in divorce, custody, CPS, modification, and grandparent cases. In addition, Mr. Housewirth is a qualified family law mediator and a member of Collaborative Law Texas, a practice group dedicating to promoting collaborative divorce in Texas.