7 People to Know in Texas Child Conservatorship Cases
Texas conservatorship cases can involve many professionals. Below, find a breakdown out of what each does.
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Very often, cases that appear headed for trial have an amicus attorney appointed. An amicus attorney does not represent anyone but helps a judge gather information necessary for an informed ruling.
The role may involve interviewing people connected to the case, observing the parents with their child, and reviewing documents like school files or police records.
Ultimately, the amicus attorney makes recommendations to the court about conservatorship as well as possession and access. The judge takes the recommendation into consideration with all other evidence.
Guardian ad litem
A guardian ad litem (meaning "for the suit" in Latin) is similar to an amicus attorney in that they gather information to help the court decide what's best for a child. However, the guardian ad litem is not usually a lawyer and is sometimes a trained volunteer.
After investigating, the guardian ad litem submits a report to the court with their recommendations about conservatorship, possession and access. The judge or jury takes the report into consideration with all other evidence.
Guardians ad litem are appointed most commonly in Travis County. Judges in other counties primarily use custody evaluations when they need a recommendation from someone outside the court.
An attorney ad litem (see below) for a case can serve simultaneously as guardian ad litem, but this is rare in Texas.
Attorney ad litem
An attorney ad litem is appointed by the court to represent someone incapable of representing themself, such as a child or an incapacitated adult. They have all the responsibilities of a regular attorney: investigating the facts of the case, interviewing the parties involved, appearing in court and more.
In a custody case, a parent or the judge can initiate the process to have the child appointed an attorney ad litem.
The appointment takes place when a judge believes the child's needs are not being thoroughly addressed, most often in cases involving neglect, abuse, addiction or similar issues.
When parents are unable to collaborate on even small issues, the court may assign a parenting coordinator. Parents can also decide together to use a coordinator.
A parenting coordinator helps parents work through conflicts related to their child. The coordinator may teach them co-parenting methods, help them draft respectful emails to each other, explain court orders and more.
Parenting coordinators can be counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists or lawyers. They complete training in dispute resolution, child development, family violence and related topics.
Parenting coordination can begin at any point during a case — whenever the judge or parents decide it's necessary. A judge may also require coordination as part of a final order, especially if the parents used a coordinator during their suit.
The court decides how parents split the coordinator's fees (usually 50/50). If parents can't pay, the court may appoint one at no cost.
Parents who have had a violent relationship often meet with their parenting coordinator separately. They can also refuse coordination.
Parenting coordination is confidential; the coordinator cannot tell anyone what happens in sessions or between parents. However, a parenting coordinator does regularly tell the court whether the parents should continue with coordination.
Parenting facilitators are the nonconfidential version of parenting coordinators.
They have the responsibilities of coordinators but also inform the court of a family's compliance with court orders. They often serve as witnesses during trials.
Texas courts often appoint associate judges when elected judges have too many cases.
In most instances, associate judges meet the same qualifications as elected judges of the court.
When you're assigned an associate judge, you can file an objection within 10 days of receiving notice. Your case will then be assigned an elected judge instead.
If you do not object, the associate judge will hear your case just as a judge of the court would. You probably won't notice any difference.
After an associate judge rules, the referring court signs to adopt the ruling. The court also has the option to modify the ruling, reject it, hear further evidence, or return the case to the associate judge for further proceedings.
You have three working days after the ruling to ask for a new hearing with an elected judge, called a de novo hearing. Whether or not you request a de novo hearing, you have the right to appeal.
Courts use associate judges mainly to decide time-sensitive issues, like requests for temporary restraining orders or temporary orders. When it comes time for a final hearing or trial, you will usually be assigned a judge of the court, but you may be able to remain with the associate judge by agreement of both parties.
Unlike elected judges, associate judges do not declare political parties.
Friend of the court
This is a a person or office tasked with ensuring parties in a suit follow court orders.
A friend of a court can be a Domestic Relations Office, a child support collection office, a local court official or an attorney.
- Communicate directly with parents
- Receive official reports on child support payments and any order violations
- Start parents in an alternative dispute resolution method, such as mediation
- Refer parents to employment agencies or training programs to help them meet their financial obligation to the child
A friend of the court is typically appointed after a parent has failed to comply with a court order. The other parent may request the appointment, or a judge can initiate it.
Judges often make the parent who has failed to follow orders pay the friend of the court's fees.
The professionals working on your case have many tools on hand. One of them is available to parents, too — Custody X Change.
With a parenting plan template, customizable possession calendars, a digital parenting journal and beyond, the Custody X Change app makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to conservatorship, possession and access.
Take advantage of the technology the professionals use, and get what's best for your child.