10 Things to Know About Custody and Divorce in Harris County, Texas

Sep 01

10 Things to Know About Custody and Divorce in Harris County, Texas

10 Things to Know About Custody and Divorce in Harris County, Texas

A divorce or child custody lawsuit is easily one of the hardest and most strenuous things a person could go through. Our team of family law attorneys come from various of life experiences and many of them have gone through their own divorce or child custody case, not to mention serving thousands of families across Texas. In our experience, it is best to be honest with clients so they are mentally prepared for what is coming in regards to their custody or divorce case. Our modern approach to family law allows us to achieve favorable outcomes for our clients. You can use these tips to educate yourself on what to expect in your case.

Here are the 10 Things to Know About Custody and Divorce in Harris County:

1. You Must to Take a Parenting Course

Harris County requires that each parent take a co-parenting course in divorces with suits affecting parent-child relationships or motions to modify custody filed on or after May 1, 1997. These courses  typically last 4-hours and may be completed in-person or online. Additionally, they must be completed before parties appear for final orders. Once successfully completed, parties will receive a certificate. This certificate must be filed prior to any testimony on final orders. Although the idea of taking a course may seem unappealing, clients often express that they learn a great deal from the experience. Below are some of the courses which have been approved by Harris County Family courts. Available Online Parenting Courses:

Available In-Person Parenting Courses:

  1. Children Cope 713-952-COPE (2673)
  2. Escape 713-942-9500
  3. Children in the Middle 713-468-8356
  4. Parents Apart 281-333-5866
  5. Family Education Institute713-688-9122
  6. Centro Infantil De Pelchin 713-730-2335
  7. Stop the Conflict 713-520-5370
  8. Building New Beginnings (Escape Center) 713-942-9500
  9. Family Time Crisis & Counseling Center 281-446-2615
  10. Putting Kids First (Also Available Online)888-777-2298 EXT. 221

2. You Probably Have to Attend Mediation

Most courts in Harris County require that parties attend mediation prior to hearings on temporary orders in all cases where custody is at issue. This does not mean that parties must settle their case. However,  if parties do not attend mediation when required to do so, a court will refuse to set temporary orders hearings. Parties must also attend mediation for an attempt to settle final orders before courts will set cases for final trial.

3. Exchanges Before Temporary Orders Orders

Before temporary orders hearings, courts require search party to exchange the following:

  • Financial Information Statement (a form specific to Harris County);
  • Copies of income tax returns for the past two years; and
  • Two most recent payroll stubs

4. Exchanges 10 Days Before Trial

Harris County requires that each party produce the following items no later than 10 days prior to trial:

  • A final Inventory (list of all assets and liabilities);
  • Financial Information Statement;
  • Income tax returns from the last 2 years (if you filed);
  • Last two pay stubs, (or other proof of income);
  • Suggested findings on child support (if applicable); and
  • A proposed division of property.

Non-compliance with any of these requirements may be grounds for sanctions by a court.

5. Disclosure is Key

Harris County requires that, in every divorce case or case where child or spousal support is at issue, each party must disclose certain information to the other party without having to wait for a discovery request:

For Divorces & Annulments:

  • All documents dealing with real estate where the party claims an interest;
  • All documents dealing with pension retirement, or other employee benefit plans;
  • The most recent account statements for any employee benefit plan;
  • All Life, casualty, liability, and health insurance documents;
  • Your most recent account statement for any financial account in your name. (i.e. banks, savings & loans, brokerage accounts, credit unions, etc.)

If Child & Spousal Support is at Issue:

  • All policies, statements, and description of benefits which reflect any and all medical and health insurance coverage that is or would be available for the child or the spouse;
  • Unless the information has previously been exchanged in connection with a temporary hearing (Rule 4.1), a Financial Information Statement for the party, together with that party’s previous two years income tax returns and two most recent payroll check stubs, or, if no payroll check stubs are available, the party’s latest Form MT-2.

6. Timing is Crucial

If you have a case in Harris County, it is advisable to leave for your hearing at least one hour prior to your scheduled start time. This way, your attorney will also have time to meet with you prior to the hearing if he/she needs to. Since you want to be outside of the courtroom at least 30 minutes before the hearing, you should plan to spend 15-20 minutes parking, walking to the courthouse from your vehicle, going through security, and waiting on an elevator.

7. Dress Professionally

The Harris County courthouse has a dress code. Dress as if you are going to a job interview for an office position. This means that shorts, sunglasses, hats, etc. are strongly discouraged.

 

8. No Children in the Courtroom

Harris County has a strict “no kids in the courtroom” policy. This means that it is each party’s responsibility to secure childcare on the day of the hearing. Children are not allowed in the courtroom at any time. If a judge ever finds it necessary to speak with a child, they will do so in their chambers.

 

9. Harris County Judges Can Hear Testimony From Children

Judges have the authority, in suits involving custody issues or support, to listen to a child’s testimony. However, situations like these are uncommon and will always be scheduled ahead of time. This testimony will take place in private, with a judge. No parties may be present while the child is testifying. Judges can take the opinions of children at least 12 years old into consideration when awarding custody.

 

10. The Court May Appoint an Amicus Attorney or Ad Litem

In suits involving custody or child support, the Court may appoint an Amicus Attorney or Guardian Ad Litem. An Amicus or Ad Litem is an official or attorney tasked with securing the best interest of the children they represent. If a court appoints an Amicus or Ad Litem, the parties will be responsible for their fees (which are usually substantially less than those charged by personal counsel). The Amicus or Ad Litem will report their findings to the judge to use in their support or custody determination. The Court Won’t Set Trial on Following weeks:

  • March – The week of the 2nd Administrative Judicial Region Conference;
  • June – The week of the State Bar Convention;
  • August – The week of the State Bar of Texas Advanced Family Law Course
  • September – The week of the Conference of the Judicial Section; and
  • The last two weeks in December

Conclusion

During these difficult and emotional times it is vital for you to work with an attorney who is reliable, honest, and knowledgable on how to handle the nuances of family law in Harris County. 

 

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