Court Process: 6 Steps to Texas Child Conservatorship

If you pursue conservatorship or possession of a child in court, your case will follow the basic steps laid out below. You may encounter some variation based on your circumstances and your county. You will face 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 looks like? Then, meet with a lawyer to come up with a strategy. Attorney representation is strongly recommended, but if you are 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 a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) or a divorce. File your papers with the court clerk, then notify the other people in your case by serving them. The other parties 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

Some larger counties require mediation before you can set a temporary order hearing. Other counties don't require mediation until later, but even there, parents sometimes choose to mediate at this early stage, hoping they can resolve disagreements sooner than later.

In mediation, parents meet with a neutral professional who helps them find solutions to disputes. If the court-ordered mediation does not result in 100% agreement, parents continue through the following steps to litigate remaining points of contention.

Remember that whenever parties are able to agree on a parenting plan ― through mediation or any other method ― they can skip the remaining steps and finish their case via the settlement process.

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 parties prepare quietly without any court interaction, while others have to attend multiple hearings and conferences.

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

Conferences are essentially meetings with the judge. In a pre-trial conference, for instance, the judge and lawyers discuss readiness for trial, ground rules and more. These may or may not be required for your case.

Step 3: Discovery

Discovery is when each party (with his or her lawyers) seeks to learn what the other side is preparing. It may include interviews under oath (called depositions), document requests, subpoenas and more. This period lasts until 30 days before trial. Once the parties 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 mediate before trial. In fact, if you were already required to mediate, your court may make you try again. Cases with custody evaluations will often begin mediation once the evaluator's report is ready. This is a final attempt to help parents make mutual decisions before trial.

Step 5: Trial

Six months to a year from filing, if parents haven't reached an agreement on their own, the case will go to trial. A trial can last hours, days, weeks or months. At the end, the judge or jury will announce their decisions. Once signed, these are known as final orders.

Step 6: Final orders

To bring the litigation process to a close, a judge will sign final orders. Final orders serve as the legal terms all parties must abide by until the child turns 18 or is emancipated. They are decided by a judge or jury after a trial, or by the parties themselves in a settlement, with the judge signing off to approve.

If a parent believes the court made an error, he or she can appeal to a higher court.

Down the road, the parents might develop a new parenting plan together or request that the court modify the final orders. As children grow older and their lifestyles change, orders often need to be modified several times.

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

Make My Plan

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

Make My Texas Plan Now

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