For Better, Worse, Or Divorce Podcast

In the second episode of our Texas Counties series, Dallas-based partners Ryan Segall and Carson Steinbauer discuss the different counties in the surrounding Dallas-Forth Worth area and their experience handling family law cases in these counties.

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  • Your hosts have earned a reputation as fierce and effective advocates inside and outside of the courtroom. Both partners are experienced trial attorneys who have been board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
  • Ryan Segall: Hi, everybody. My name is Ryan Segall here with the For Better, Worse, or Divorce podcast. We provide tips and insights into Texas family law. So today I’m joined by my colleague and partner, Carson Steinbauer. She’s one of the partners here in the Dallas office along with myself. As part of our series on Texas counties, we’re going to discuss different counties in the state of Texas. Today we’re talking about counties in the surrounding DFW area for someone who’s going through a family law matter in one of those counties.
  • Just a little bit of background about myself; I’ve been practicing family law since 2014 and I was board certified in 2019. I have practiced almost exclusively in the DFW area. I have had cases all around the state, but for the most part, the majority of my cases are here in Dallas and the surrounding counties. Carson, talk to the people out there about your background and how you ended up here at Walters Gilbreath.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Sure. Hi, Ryan. Thanks for having me. I am just shy of a 30-year lawyer. I wasn’t born and raised in Texas, but I went to law school here and I’ve been practicing in Texas since graduation. I went out and became a prosecutor for a few years. I got some trial skills and then went out into civil practice where I immediately fell in love with family law and I’ve been doing it ever since.
  • I, like you, have practiced all throughout the state. I started out in Bexar County down in San Antonio, and I’ve handled cases again all throughout Texas. Like you, I live in North Texas now. I’ve been here since 2002. So while I primarily practice in Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant County, I will go anywhere just like you. I love handling family law in all types of cases. If you can get me to go out of my regular bubble area as they say, I enjoy it because I enjoy going to the different courthouses and visiting with all the different judges.
  • Ryan Segall: Great. So let’s hop into it here and talk a little bit about the different counties. Obviously, each county has their nuances and things that each person should know. I guess the biggest thing that I can think of off the top of my head is the associate judges that are in some of the counties and not others. Talk to the people a little bit about those associate judges, what their roles are and which counties they’re in.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Sure. Well, in this area we have Collin and we have Dallas, which are the two largest counties in North Texas. As everybody knows, many, many people are moving here just in droves because Texas is a great place to live and very economical. Collin County where I live, we have a relatively new courthouse that’s huge. It’s right up the road. They are courts of general jurisdiction, however, so they don’t have associate judges.
  • Dallas and Tarrant County are just down the road from Dallas because they are the largest counties still in the North Texas area. They have associate judges which are appointed and I believe handpicked by the senior district judges to serve under them. Primarily they handle temporary orders hearings, which as a family lawyer, those are the majority of the everyday hearings that we have. There’s just so many of them that the district judges would get backed up and there would be a big backlog of cases.
  • I mean, I know that there was really a backlog anyway due to COVID, but those associate judges really are hearing the meat of the temporary orders cases and signing agreed orders. Some of them will hear discovery disputes, maybe most of them do now. The district judges really are reserved for final trials, really serious contested matters, and contempt motions, I believe.
  • Ryan Segall: I think you nailed it there. The way I always describe it to clients is in those two counties, Dallas and Tarrant counties that have those associate judges, those associate judges are going to hear anything that’s not a permanent thing. That’s how I kind of describe it to clients. Now I do know that you do have the option if you want to, you can have these associate judges hear a final hearing such as final trial, something like that. For the most part, most people want those final hearings heard by the district judge. They’re the ones that usually hear those final trials. So unless it’s by agreements, most of the time those are going to be heard by those courts.
  • The other thing on this topic is something that I always thought is interesting around the DFW areas.  Most courts have what’s called standing orders. Tarrant, which is Fort Worth, Tarrant County does not. Carson, explain a little bit to the people out there about what that means as far as these standing orders and what you have to do in Tarrant County versus what you have in the other counties. 
  • Carson Steinbauer: Sure. So when you and I started out, which is a long time ago, I think one of the first things that a senior lawyer told me is never go to court without first looking at that court’s local rules because every court has a different set of local rules. Whether you’re in Tarrant, Travis, Collin, Dallas, whatever. Then because we practice family law, I don’t know how many years ago family courts started coming out with their own little subset of local rules called the family law local rules. Again, each jurisdiction has their own. They have, as you mentioned, the standing orders, except for Tarrant.
  • So to start with the other counties that have standing orders, you want to go to the court’s website before you have a hearing and look up what those standing orders are. Actually when a party, husband or wife files for divorce, for example, the standing orders automatically get attached to the petition. Those standing orders go into effect immediately and are binding on the parties. They have different things that prohibit the parties from doing certain things until a hearing can be heard. They’re really there to protect the status quo for the parties. So for example, many of the standing orders will say: “Do not expend, transfer, hide, secret assets, destroy assets. Don’t destroy any social media accounts for yourself, the other party or for the children. Don’t spend any assets or withdraw any money.” 
  • Ryan Segall: Are you saying you shouldn’t just go around and destroy evidence?
  • Carson Steinbauer: Well, I’m hoping that my clients won’t do that, but yes, absolutely. We have had occasions as you know, where some people just don’t get the memo and they think, “Oh, I really don’t want my spouse or the court to see me having been in Mexico last week with my paramour, so I may as well delete my Facebook account.” That’s a big no-no when those standing orders go into effect.
  • Ryan Segall: Carson, I have no idea what you’re talking about. No client of mine has ever done that.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Well, you haven’t been practicing as long as I have apparently.
  • Ryan Segall: I think when it comes down to standing orders, I do think it’s important to go over them initially. Basically as soon as you’re pulled into the representation or as soon as somebody files it is important to go through those and make sure that the clients know, “Hey, this is exactly what you can and cannot do regardless of where you are in the case.” As soon as that filing is done, those standing orders attach and those people are bound by them.
  • Like we were talking about, Tarrant does not have those standing orders. Maybe you’ve had a different experience, but when you file initially in Tarrant County, one party usually requests what’s called a temporary restraining order, but not asking for extensive relief. They’re just asking for essentially the standing orders from other counties and that’s what they’re asking for. That way you kind of have a version of the standing orders, but you have to go through a couple more steps to get them. It’s not an automatic thing like it is in the other counties.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Correct, but as you said, you have to walk over to Tarrant County and walk them through and actually have a judge sign off on it. Whereas the other counties in this area at least, it’s automatic. It has to be attached to the petition once you file the suit. As you said, I always encourage my clients to really read through them because they are quite lengthy and some of it’s self-explanatory. Don’t disparage your spouse to the kids, for example.
  • Dallas is different, I believe, than the other surrounding counties. Not that anybody would do this, but it even protects the party’s pets. Don’t harm or secret the pets. So sometimes people think they can do things. For example, if someone moves out of the house once you file for divorce and they move out voluntarily, somebody may think, “Oh, I changed the locks on the door.” Many of the standing orders say you can’t do that without a hearing. So it’s very important to read through them line by line and make sure you catch everything and abide by the court’s orders.
  • Ryan Segall: For the people out there that are watching us on YouTube or listening to us, you don’t need to be an attorney to find these standing orders. Like you said, Carson, you can go to the court’s website, you can Google ‘standing orders Rockwall County’, and you’ll pull them up like that. So you can see an idea of, “Hey, this is what is going to be attached to those initial filings.” I know this has been a thing since about March of 2020, talk to me a little bit about virtual versus in-person hearings in these different counties. What’s your experience been?
  • Carson Steinbauer: Well, my experience has been once COVID was really behind us, Collin County wanted to open back up and have in-person hearings. The judges up there, and everybody’s preference is different. They like to have lawyers and parties in the courtroom. Now if everyone is in agreement or someone makes a special request, they still do Zoom hearings. More often than not when I’m having to go to Collin and Denton as well it’s physically in the courthouse.
  • Most temporary orders in Dallas, at least by my experience, yours may be different, but with the judges there for me, all of my temporary orders hearings have been by Zoom. I don’t have a preference. I mean I love being in the courtroom and having the feel of it. But the convenience of Zoom, not just for me but for my clients who don’t necessarily want to take time off of work and travel all the way down to Dallas to the courthouse. For example, finding parking and all of that, Zoom has been quite convenient. I was glad to see that a lot of the courts, particularly Dallas, still continue on with that after COVID has really gotten behind us.
  • Ryan Segall: Yeah, I think it is really a judge-specific sort of determination, if you will, as to whether or not it’s going to be in-person or Zoom. I would say probably about half the courts in Dallas, like you say, are Zoom. I’ve had other courts on the other hand are almost exclusively back to in-person in Dallas. I think Dallas is probably the outlier. Most of the other counties, Tarrant, Collin, Denton, Rockwall, most of those other counties are almost a hundred percent in-person. Unless like you said, there’s some agreement.
  • I know certain judges in Collin, well in all those counties that will say, “Hey, if it’s an expert or something like that, and we just need them here briefly, we can do a Zoom just appearance while everyone else is in the courtroom,” what we call a hybrid. I think that that’s pretty helpful, especially when you don’t want to have to pay an expert to come down and pay a few thousand dollars for five minutes worth of testimony. I think the Zoom does help with that.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Absolutely.
  • Ryan Segall: I think there’s certainly advantages and disadvantages.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Yes, I agree. I mean the biggest advantage obviously is the convenience for everyone. As you said, not having an expert appear at the courthouse at 9AM and then not being called to testify until 4:30 in the afternoon. It will save the clients a lot of money if an expert can be called up on Zoom while everybody else is live in the courtroom.
  • One of the downsides is we have to prepare and get all of our exhibits ready in advance. Because by Zoom as you know, typically the exhibits have to be presented to the court reporter and exchanged with the other side early in advance of the hearing when you’re doing it by Zoom. It can be a little bit more cumbersome that way.
  • Ryan Segall: Going back to our original topic here, make sure you contact the court coordinator. Look at the court’s website to figure out what those rules are for Zoom appearances and Zoom hearings because every court is going to be different. I know some courts that require two business days, which throws me off because if I have a hearing on Tuesday, I realize that I’ve actually got to get my exhibits in on Friday. That is something to make sure to look at because other courts will say, you just need them an hour beforehand, just email them to the coordinator or email them to the court reporter. It’s important to make sure you know your judge. Also know the court that you’re in because even within each different county, you’re going to have different rules and different guidelines on those. 
  • I will say this, I recently  went to Dallas County and they had done a complete overhaul of the electronics there. Now the hybrid Zoom hearings are going to be hopefully, knock on wood, significantly easier. The technology is very fancy and it’s probably been a long time coming. I think with COVID and everyone doing Zoom hearings, it makes people realize the need to update the technology in some of these courthouses. What else can you think of as far as structures or things to know about these different counties and what to expect here in the DFW area?
  • Carson Steinbauer: Well, going back to the standing orders for just a minute in preparation for this. Because once they were implemented, as lawyers it is important for us to know and remember that the courts are always tweaking them and changing them. We may have been dealing with them for 5 or 10 years, but as you know, they could have changed it last week. If we’re running to court on Monday, we better check them again to make sure that we’re complying with everything. Because I’m a studier, I went and looked at each of the surrounding ones last night.
  • Denton, for example, which is a bit more conservative county than Dallas County. Denton has in their standing orders, once that goes into effect and the parties may already be separated or the parties may have already been separated for a year, for example. Those standing orders state that neither parent can have a dating relationship or a person with whom they’re having a dating relationship in the home overnight while they’re in possession of the children while those standing orders are in effect. Now that’s not the case for Collin, it’s not the case for Dallas and they don’t have standing orders in Tarrant. That’s one difference.
  • We have a 20-minute rule here in Collin County for temporary orders hearings. Which I don’t believe is in any other county that I can recall. 20 minutes for temporary orders hearing goes very quick. Now I’ve filed motions asking to enlarge the time on a big case. Sometimes it’s granted, sometimes it’s not, but they’re all different.
  • Ryan Segall: I was going to say you’ve got those granted, I’m impressed.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Yes, well rarely, but on occasion. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  • Ryan Segall: That’s fair. The 20-minute rule is something that is pretty unique to Collin and judges all over the state will reference it. I haven’t seen this in the DFW area, but I’ve seen other counties. Travis comes to mind, or Williamson County down in Austin where they’ll give days for temporary orders hearings. It is crazy to me because these 20-minute hearings in Collin County will dictate what happens for the pendency of the case, and that could be a year plus. Now, I will say though, at the same time, I like it because it takes out all the BS. I don’t think we can curse on this podcast, so I’m not going to.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Come on, Ryan.
  • Ryan Segall: I know Katy, our producer, she’s shaking her finger right now at me. It really takes away a lot of this fluff and makes people actually get to the point in these temporary orders hearings. I like it, to be honest. I think to your point that sometimes you do need more than 20 minutes, but for the most part I think 20 minutes you get what you need into evidence and that’s that. You can’t really BS around with it.
  • Carson Steinbauer: It definitely has its pluses and minuses, and I agree with you. It helps litigants and lawyers not be repetitive when you’re preparing. It helps you really hone down as to what the true issues are and helps the client see, we really can’t go in there and sweat the small stuff. Don’t be arguing over forks and knives, for example. Argue about the big stuff, the money, the kids, the safety issues.
  • On the flip side for clients, these are important issues for these people and they want to be heard. If you have a case that’s complex with multiple witnesses, sometimes parties will come out of there feeling very defeated and as if they weren’t heard. That’s why I always get that motion in there to try to enlarge the time when I can if I know it’s going to be a complex case. Again, many times I’m shot down, but I like to try.
  • Ryan Segall: I won’t name any names here, but I had a case recently in Tarrant County and an opposing counsel asked for more time. The judge was reluctant and he said, “I’ll give you each 10 more minutes per side.” Opposing counsel then asked a witness to spell her aunt’s name or something like that. The judge immediately said, “I regret giving you those 10 minutes.”
  • Carson Steinbauer: I prefer not having a 20-minute rule because as you just pointed out. In my experience, every judge I’ve ever been in front of has no problem cutting someone off if they feel like you’ve been repetitive or they don’t need to hear it anymore, which I’m fine with. The judge has the authority and the power to shut it down and change gears. I just don’t like being locked into that 20 minutes. It’s there for a reason and we have to adapt.
  • Ryan Segall: You talk about pots and pans. Let’s end with this because I know we’re coming up on time. I had a case in Dallas County, and Dallas is a little bit more flexible. If you need a special set of an hour per side or something like that, usually you can get that in the Dallas County, the associate judge’s courts. We had a hearing where there’s a lot of testimony about items in the house on a temporary basis and there was a toaster oven or something like that. 
  • Carson Steinbauer: Not the toaster.
  • Ryan Segall: The judge was reading the stipulations of certain items that had been stipulated to, and one of them, she said, “Okay, and husband is getting the toaster oven.” They said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Judge, if we had known, we would’ve put on evidence about that toaster oven.” Which at this point I was like, what would’ve the evidence for the toaster oven had been? Someone made more bagels? I mean, I don’t know. Certainly different courts will let people get away with more stuff. Bringing it full circle here, it really depends on your specific judge in your specific county. Carson, leave us with any lasting advice as far as what to look for in the different counties or things to kind of keep in mind.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Sure. Well, for all of you listeners out there, I would say that as Ryan and I have just made very clear, there can be all the rules in the world and they may all be different in each and every county, but it’s of utmost important to know your judge. That’s why it’s so important to hire experienced family lawyers, Ryan and I and other people at our firm, Walters Gilbreath, because we’ve been around the block and we know the judges. We know the judges, know the rules, and know what’s going to work in each individual courtroom.
  • Ryan Segall: That’s exactly right. To that point, our firm does have offices in all the major cities, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and  Austin. We’re happy to help with any of those major cities, including anywhere in the state of Texas. So that’s all we have for today. Thank you, Carson, for coming on the podcast. That was a fun time. I’m glad we got to do it and hopefully we’ll do it again soon.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Absolutely.
  • Ryan Segall: This was one of the first episodes of our local county series. The next episode looks like it’s going to be one of the partners, Jake Gilbreath and Stefani Preston, one of the associates down in the Austin office. They’ll talk with people about Travis County, Williamson County, and all those surrounding counties down in the Hill Country area.
  • If you liked what you heard today, do us a favor, leave a review, and smash that like button as they say. We appreciate all the feedback, especially when it comes to these podcasts. If you have any follow-up questions to this podcast or wish to talk with Carson, myself, or any of the other attorneys here at Walters Gilbreath, feel free to reach out to us. Our email is podcast@waltersgilbreath.com or you can contact us directly at www.waltersgilbreath.com. I’m Ryan Segall for Carson Steinbauer. Thanks for listening, guys. Take care.
  • Carson Steinbauer: Take care.
  • For information about the topics covered in today’s episode and more, you can visit our website at waltersgilbreath.com. Thanks for tuning into today’s episode of For Better, Worse, or Divorce, where we post new episodes every first and third Wednesday. Do you have a topic you want discussed or a question for our hosts? Email us at podcast@waltersgilbreath.com. Thanks for listening. Until next time.