7 People to Know in Texas Child Conservatorship Cases

Texas conservatorship cases can involve many professionals. Here, find a breakdown out of what each does.

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Amicus attorney

Very often, cases that appear headed for trial will have an amicus attorney appointed. An amicus attorney does not represent anyone. Instead, he or she helps a judge gather information necessary to make an informed ruling.

The role may involve interviewing people connected to the case, observing the parents with their child, and reviewing documents such as school files or police records. An amicus attorney also participates in hearings and trials; he or she can make opening and closing statements, call and question witnesses, and present exhibits.

Ultimately, the amicus makes recommendations to the court about conservatorship, as well as possession and access. The judge takes the recommendation into consideration along 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 he or she gathers information to help the court decide what’s best for a child. However, the guardian ad litem is not usually a lawyer, and may be a licensed professional, a trained volunteer or another competent adult.

An attorney ad litem (see below) for a case can be appointed to serve simultaneously serve as guardian ad litem, though this is rare in Texas.

After investigating, the guardian ad litem submits a report to the court including his or her recommendations about conservatorship, possession and access. The judge or jury takes the report into consideration along with all other evidence.

Guardians ad litem are not used often in Texas, except in Travis County. Judges in other counties primarily use custody evaluations when they need a recommendation from someone outside the court.

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. He or she has 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, either party 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.

Parenting coordinator

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 children. A coordinator may lead parents in discussions on 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 attorneys. They complete training in dispute resolution, child development, family violence and related topics.

Parenting coordination can begin at any point during a case involving conservatorship, possession or access — whenever the judge or parents decide it’s necessary. A judge may also require parenting coordination as part of a final order, especially if the parents used a coordinator with success throughout 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. Parties can also refuse coordination if they have evidence of domestic violence in their relationship.

Parenting coordination is confidential; the coordinator cannot tell anyone, not even the court, what happens in sessions or between parents. However, a parenting coordinator will tell the court regularly whether or not the parents should continue with coordination.

Parenting facilitator

Parenting facilitators are the non-confidential version of parenting coordinators.

They have all the responsibilities of coordinators, but must also inform the court of a family’s compliance with court orders. They often serve as witnesses during trials. But facilitators do not give the court recommendations regarding conservatorship, possession or access.

Except for these expanded duties, the details of parenting coordination (above) apply to parenting facilitation.

Associate judge

Texas courts often appoint associate judges when elected judges have too many cases.

In most instances, associate judges must meet the same qualifications as elected judges of the court.

When you are assigned an associate judge, you can file an objection within 10 days of receiving notice. Your will then be assigned an elected judge of the court instead.

If you do not object, the associate judge will hear your case just as a judge of the court would. You will probably not notice any differences.

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 entirely, 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. If you don't request a de novo hearing, you still 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, or 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.

The friend of the court makes sure that conditions for child possession and access are met and that child support is paid on time. To do this, the friend may:

  • Communicate directly with parents
  • Receive official reports on child support payments and any violations of an order
  • Start parents in an alternate dispute resolution method, such as mediation
  • Refer parents to employment agencies, retraining programs or similar resources to ensure they can meet their financial obligations to the child

A friend of the court is typically appointed after a parent has failed to comply with a court order. A party 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.

Professional technology

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, possession calendars, a digital 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.

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