Court Process: 5 Steps to Texas Child Conservatorship

If you pursue conservatorship or possession of a child in court, you'll follow the steps below.

You may encounter some variation based on your circumstances and your county. You'll have additional steps if your suit is connected to a paternity or family violence case.

Any time parents reach an agreement, they can formalize it through the settlement process and skip the remaining steps.

Other methods for deciding conservatorship (like mediation, collaborative law and arbitration) have their own processes.

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Step 1: Preparation

Do your research and consider your options. Will you request sole or joint managing conservatorship? What does your ideal possession schedule look like?

Then, meet with a lawyer to come up with a strategy. Attorney representation is strongly recommended, but if you're not able to hire someone, you should at least do a free or low-cost consultation to hear the thoughts of a legal professional.

Step 2: Filing

Next, open a family law case; this can be a suit affecting the parent-child relationship or a divorce. File your papers with the court clerk, then notify the other parent by serving them. The other parent will have the opportunity to file a response.

If your child has ever received benefits from Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or a food stamp program, you'll need to inform the attorney general's office that you've opened a case. The attorney general may use a separate process to decide the child, medical and dental support aspects of your case.

Possible step: Temporary restraining order

If there's a high possibility the other parent will do something damaging in the coming days or weeks, you can ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO).

A TRO dictates what a party can and cannot do in the next 14 days (28, if you receive an extension) or until a temporary order hearing — whichever comes first.

The judge will decide whether to order the TRO based on your affidavit; no hearing is required.

Possible step: Mediation

In some larger counties, you're required to attend mediation before you can set a temporary order hearing. Other counties don't require mediation until later, but parents there sometimes choose to mediate at this early stage so they can resolve disagreements sooner.

In mediation, parents meet with a neutral professional who helps them agree on a parenting plan. If parents can't agree on every part of their plan, they continue through the following steps to litigate the remaining points of contention.

You can ask a judge to waive the mediation requirement if there's been family violence or if mediation is otherwise unlikely to work.

Possible step: Hearings and conferences

In the weeks and months before trial, some parents prepare quietly without any court interaction, while others have multiple hearings and conferences.

You'll have a temporary order hearing within four weeks of filing your case if either parent requested one. You may have other hearings if the judge needs information to decide next steps — e.g., a hearing to determine whether a custody evaluation or amicus attorney is necessary.

Conferences are essentially meetings with the judge. In a pretrial conference, for instance, the judge and lawyers discuss readiness and ground rules for trial. Your case may not require conferences.

Step 3: Discovery

Discovery is when each parent (with their lawyer) seeks to learn what the other side is preparing. It may include interviews under oath (called depositions) and document requests. This period lasts until 30 days before trial. Once the parents see what they are up against, they often decide to settle and forgo the final steps.

Step 4: Mediation

If you haven't already attended mediation, you will now; every county requires parents to attempt mediation before trial. In fact, if you were already required to mediate, your court may make you try again. Cases with custody evaluations often begin mediation as soon as the evaluator's report is ready.

Step 5: Trial

Six months to a year from filing, if parents haven't reached an agreement, the case goes to trial. A trial can last hours, days, weeks or (rarely) months. At the end, the judge or jury announces their decisions. Once written and signed by the judge, the decisions are known as final orders.

After trial

If a parent believes the court made an error, they can appeal to a higher court.

Down the road, the parents might develop a modified parenting plan together, or one might ask the court to decide on a modification.

If the other parent doesn't follow a court order, keep detailed notes and gather evidence of the violations. For serious or repeat violations, you can contact police or file a motion to enforce the order with the court.

Throughout your case

During the custody process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft possession schedules, track your time with your child, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, possession calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to conservatorship, possession and access.

Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules.

Make My Texas Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules.

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Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules.

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