For Better, Worse, Or Divorce Podcast

In the last episode in our “Texas Counties Series,” Brian Walters meets with associate attorney JB Bobbitt to discuss practicing family law in the different counties that make up the surrounding Houston counties (such as Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria, Galveston). Brian and JB discuss the local rules, key court locations, structure of the family court system, the filing requirements and deadlines within each county, and the importance of hiring an attorney with experience in your specific county.

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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.

Brian Walters: Thanks for tuning into the For Better, Worse, or Divorce podcast where we provide you tips and insights on how to navigate divorce and child custody situations here in the state of Texas. I’m Brian Walters and I’m joined today by one of our attorneys in our Houston office, JB Bobbitt, as part of our series on Texas counties, discussing different counties and local rules. In this case in Houston and the surrounding areas that may be helpful for someone going through a family law matter in that area.

JB, thanks for joining us today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and not just the boring lawyer stuff. Where you went to law school, where you grew up, and a little something interesting about yourself and your life and all of those kinds of things, if you want to.

JB Bobbitt: Absolutely. Well, of course, my name’s JB Bobbitt and I am a native Houstonian and native Texan. I’ve practiced in family law for approximately 12 years now. I think it’s interesting in my experience. I developed an interest in the law at a very early age by being a bicycle messenger. I was delivering court filings for various law firms and I developed relationships with the court clerks in my early twenties. Some of those clerks now manage the district clerk’s office. I’ve always found those experiences helped me really realize the importance of building those relationships at the courthouse where you might be practicing.

Brian Walters: I have seen those bicycle messengers or messenger type folks and I’ve always thought doing that, especially in the summer in Houston, was one of the more difficult jobs I could ever imagine. So congratulations on surviving that and not melting into the earth.

Houston is the largest city in Texas. Greater Houston is a little bit behind Dallas-Fort Worth in the total number of people in the greater Houston area. It’s about seven million versus about eight million in Dallas, but both obviously very gigantic metropolitan areas. Unlike the Dallas-Fort Worth area or some of the other big areas like Austin, San Antonio, El Paso especially in contrast to Dallas-Fort Worth. We’ve got one kind of dominant county versus Dallas, which has four large counties and then some smaller outlining ones. We’ve got Harris County, which is this huge dominant county. It’s the largest county in the state by population by far, and then several pretty good-sized population- wise counties around. They are in particular, Fort Bend and Montgomery County. Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, and Waller are smaller counties with still substantial either size, population or both.

Let’s go through each one of these counties, and we’ll spend the most time on Harris County because that is where most people live. It’s where most of the cases are filed. That’s where most of the courts are that we deal with. We’ll go through each one and just kind of talk about them. Just so everybody knows,  I think there’s 254 counties in Texas. Out of those, Harris County, which is Houston, is the largest. Each one has their own set of courts and each one has its own set of local rules. Those are kind of specifics, although we’re all governed by the same Texas family law and Texas rules of procedure regardless of what county they’re in. There are a lot of variations on how they’re handled. And of course judges are human beings, and so there’s some difference between various judges in various counties.

First of all, none of these counties are what are called central dockets, which is what you have in Austin or San Antonio. In other words, Travis or Bexar Counties where you’ve got everybody feeding into one general docket and then they get kind of parceled out. These are all when you’re assigned to a particular court and you end up in that court. You go to all your hearings in that court and you get your trials in those courts. That’s some difference from other parts of Texas.

As I understand it, we’ve got 12 family law courts in Harris County. No additional ones were added in this particular legislative session. We’ve got one thing that’s kind of unusual. It’s the only one like it in Texas, which is that we have a dedicated family violence court or protective order court, the 280th. Do you want to talk a little bit about that court? Let’s start there because it’s the only one in Texas that’s dedicated just to that topic.

JB Bobbitt: The 280th District Court is a court that is exclusively handling family violence matters and protective orders. There has been a return from almost all of the family courts to have assigned their protective order matters to the 280th. For a time, some of the judges had taken that authority back. Now any matter involving a protective order is going to be heard in the 280th irrespective of any other family law matter related to the same parties.

Brian Walters: Yeah, that is interesting. Of course if you just have a protective order issue only, it’s probably preferable because you can get things heard quickly and with a great deal of specific knowledge by the court. More frequently these are part of overall cases. Let’s say there’s a divorce and there’s an allegation of family violence between the spouses. Now you’ve got part of the case, the protective order in the 280th court. Then your divorce proper, which might be custody or property in a different court. That can cause some confusion and overlap. Sometimes you have a hearing that covers sort of the same topics twice. I just did one of those very recently and it’s a little bit duplicative, but it’s a system that we have. It’s one of the quirks of Harris County. It’s just a part of being a really, really large county like it is.

Otherwise, for the 11 other courts that handle regular family law cases, we have partisan elections in Texas as many people know. We had it in 2018. It happens about every 20 years in Harris County. It seems like we have a switch of folks voting more Democratic and more Republican. We had a switch and the judges who had been on the court, a lot of them for 20 or so years since the last time this changed, all switched over in 2018. I think the first of them switched over in 2016 and then 2018 was kind of the big change, and that’s continued to be the case. We have what used to be relatively new judges, although most of them are now on their second terms and getting to be pretty experienced as well.

Let’s talk about some of the other things that are specific about it. I know we’ve been going through virtual versus in-person hearings. Before the pandemic, everything was in person. During the height of it, everything was virtual. Then it became somewhat mixed. Where are we now in most of those courts as far as whether you need to show up in person, virtual or if you have choices?

JB Bobbitt: Well, I think overwhelmingly Harris County has returned to an in-person preference for in-person dockets. Some of the judges have really been creative, and I think it’s a great thing, in adapting hybrid set situations for different types of hearings. Particularly when the hearing itself might not require the testimony of witnesses or otherwise just need lawyers to appear and present documents to the court.

It’s court-specific in Harris County. Being the largest county and with all of our different courts and our different judges, they have not adopted local rules or procedures that apply across the board. There have been efforts. It’s a best practice to always make sure you’re constantly checking each court’s rules because oftentimes they update them throughout the year. I think that’s a reflection of our judges’ good faith efforts to try and adapt rules that make the courts move efficiently.

Brian Walters: Yeah, I agree. That was the reason I hired my first associate in Houston back in 2016. It actually was because I got tired of going down to court seemingly every morning for a five-minute motion and it would take hours to get. There were 35 other cases and it would take me two or three hours to get my five-minute motion heard, which was usually very predictable on the outcome and very simple. That’s one of the reasons I did that is because I wanted to be able to send somebody else down there to do that at a lower hourly rate than I have. Now I think most of the courts have gotten to the point where they’ll do those little simple ones virtually. You can kind of just hang out on Zoom until you’re needed. You can do other work and then pop in and have that hearing, get an order signed or whatever you need to do. I think it’s a much better situation.

In general I’ve been happy with Harris County. I would say the one thing in comparison to a lot of other counties is that if you’re set on a trial or a hearing, you are less likely in Harris County than I think some of the other counties in the state to actually be certain that it’s going to happen. Let’s say we have a trial set for March 15th. In certain counties, I’m 95% sure I’m going to go forward with my trial on March 15th. In a lot of counties the average is probably 80% likely I’d say.

Harris County is less likely, maybe 50 or 60%. The reason is because of the huge caseload I think more than anything and the uncertainty of it. There are some huge cases that come through here that might take up two weeks of the judge’s time. That is going to bounce a lot of the other cases out of the way. I think they try real hard to hold people to those things, but I think it’s just the inevitable part of being in a large county.

That’s one thing I would tell people. If you’re in court in Harris County and you think you have a hearing coming up, don’t be so sure. It’s going to eventually happen. It might happen as scheduled, but it might also be pushed back two weeks, two months or something like that. It’s just kind of the way it goes.

JB Bobbitt: Well, I think it’s sort of on topic as well that Harris County with the 13 counties that surround it is beholden to if an attorney has a setting in one of these outer counties that I know we’re going to talk about. The administrative rules for our judicial region require that those counties take precedent. Oftentimes you might be set for trial, but Harris County is going to have to yield to an earlier set trial in another county. I’ve been bumped by that reason alone several times before and it could be frustrating.

Brian Walters: Absolutely. That’s a good segue into the other part of it. You’re right, Greater Houston, at least in the legal system, is considered Harris and 13 counties. There are four of those counties that are around Harris County that are what I would call larger suburban type counties. Although they initially had started out as their own towns and now they’ve just kind of merged into the Greater Houston ecosystem. Those are; Fort Bend County, that’s places like Sugar Land and Richmond. Montgomery County, which is The Woodlands, Conroe and part of Spring. Brazoria County, which is South Pearland and those areas, Angleton, etc. Then lastly, Galveston County, which is of course Galveston, but it’s also some parts of the mainland including the NASA area and that type of thing.

Again, these four counties each have their own court system. If you’re assigned to the 418th in Montgomery County, you’re going to litigate in the 418th in Montgomery County. Besides depending on where you live, having to drive a little bit further as a lawyer to get to those things, there are some differences between them. We will go down them briefly.

Fort Bend County just to talk about the judges in particular also had sort of a political regime change over the past several election cycles. The judges there are relatively new, but I’ve had good experiences down there. Before then the judges that were there had been there a long time also, sort of like Harris County. Now we have new judges, but it’s just the way it works in our system.

Montgomery County still has the longer-serving judges or their former associate judges are running most of those cases up there. Those judges have been up there for a long time and it’s pretty predictable. If you’ve been practicing in Montgomery County over the past 10 or 20 years, you’ve been seeing the same judges for a while. I don’t think that will change because of political reasons anytime soon just looking at them with the voting patterns. Brazoria and Galveston County also have been more fairly stable.

Those are all four fast-growing areas. The legislature has been adding courts down there, sometimes family courts to those counties as they continue to grow very, very rapidly.

To me it’s interesting. Something probably like 5% of our firm’s caseload is in Brazoria or Galveston County each. Probably 10% in Fort Bend and Montgomery County, which kind of mirrors the population in general. You’ve got probably a third or so of the population outside of Harris County or maybe 40% outside of Harris County and the rest in Harris County. Anything that jumps out at you about those particular counties, JB? 

JB Bobbitt: I think that when you look at Fort Bend as it’s grown, they do have a similar structure where each court has their own local rules and procedures that they post on their website. I think distinguishing one is Montgomery County, which does have a consistent policy and local rule for their family courts. While the application might be different, you can really trust that these judges are going to stick by their local rules in Montgomery County. I like that. I’ve had great experiences there. I think you could really rely on the Montgomery County judges to be fair and consistent in the application.

Brian Walters: Yeah, I agree with you. I would say it is stricter up there and there are more specific requirements. But I mean, that’s our job. Those aren’t designed to be just difficult for the purpose of it. It’s designed to present the court and both sides with the necessary evidence it’s going to need to make certain decisions. Also, you need to have your act together to go. You can’t just roll into court in those places and be like, “Hey, I’m here and let’s have a hearing.” You’ve got to be prepared. But again, that’s our job. 

As far as the smaller rural counties, Chambers, Waller, and Austin. Austin County, which is confusing, because it does not include the city of Austin. There’s several counties like that in Texas that’ll be like, wait a second, that’s not where Austin is or something like that. We don’t have a lot of cases out there. The occasional one, but generally there’s not a lot of population. If there are, they might hire a local lawyer out there. They generally have simpler matters than we might run into in the bigger urban areas. But there are some, and in particular, I think Chambers and Waller County are probably the two that we deal with the most. They’re both rural counties. They’ve been very stable. Typically, the judges have been there a long time and were attorneys in the local area beforehand.

I found them to be fair. I don’t mind going to those places. I don’t feel like I ever get home-towned. My experience has been that judges want the same thing wherever they are. They want well-prepared professional attorneys who know what they’re doing and are going to be professional, kind, open and honest with everybody, just like you’re required to be under the ethical rules in Texas. I’ve never had a problem going out there, although we don’t do it a lot. I don’t know, maybe you’re a little bit different. I don’t know if you get out to those counties more than I do or not, but what are your thoughts or experiences?

JB Bobbitt: I completely agree with that. I think that the judges, and particularly where I’ve had a lot of experience with Brazoria, Waller, and Chambers is that they’re trying to do the same thing that I think every judge is trying to do – which is to make sure that their constituents, that the people who are coming to court are having a fair experience. They may try different approaches, but it all comes into that idea of judicial economics. There’s only so much time in the day and there’s so many cases. So they put in place rules and procedures.

If you get a lawyer that’s not necessarily from that county or doesn’t practice there every single day. As a lawyer, if I go into Chambers County and I’m respectful of that court staff, I’m respectful of their procedures. By being respectful and having taken the time to learn it, read it and appreciate it. Then I find that they really value that and are trying to make sure that their docket moves and that your client, if you’re practicing there, is one of their constituents they want to see them treated fairly and have good effective representation. 

I think the general overview that you started with is that you just have to make sure we take our time to read those local rules and familiarize ourselves with how the coordinator may want you to communicate with them. That is something that’s not going to be found on the local rules, but they may prefer an email, they may prefer you use an online docketing system.

Brian Walters: Yeah, I agree. I think that in some of the rural counties it’s still possible just to pick up the phone and call. I’ve got one now in East Texas, and we can just kind of pick up the phone and call the court administrator, talk about the weather and how the local high school football team did or whatever. Which I can Google and know in advance and then talk about, “Hey, can we get a hearing next week on blah, blah, blah,” and they’re like, “Oh, sure. When will it work for you?” It’s still kind of like that in some of those places, which I find kind of nice and refreshing. It’s not quite as impersonal as we get some time in the big counties, which it has to be obviously in these big counties.

That’s kind of an overview of Greater Houston. We’ll be doing a series on all the other major metropolitan areas in Texas, which is where most of our clients live. We’ll probably do one just on the rural smaller towns or smaller areas as well, although we tend to cover those in passing on these.

Well, I hope that’s helpful to everybody and that’s all we have for today. This looks like our fourth and final episode of our Local County Series. Thanks for joining us. If your county wasn’t discussed during this series, or if you have specific questions on your Texas family law case, you can reach out to us at or you can contact us directly through our website, I’m Brian Walters here with JB Bobbitt. Thanks for listening. 

For information about the topics covered in today’s episode and more, you can visit our website at Thanks for tuning into today’s episode of For Better, Worse, or Divorce, where we host new episodes every first and third Wednesday. Do you have a topic you want discussed or a question for our hosts? Email us at Thanks for listening. Until next time.