Beginning as early as March, the Texas Supreme Court began issuing orders in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Because of these orders, courts in every county have modified court schedules, rescheduled cases, and halted certain in-person proceedings to limit person-to-person contact.
Texas family courts are no different. As the pandemic continues into the fall, most family courts are still operating on delayed or modify schedules. While every county’s practices might slightly differ, there are many commonalities when it comes to the court administration. So here is a simple guide to some frequently asked questions about family court proceedings during the pandemic.
Is the family court open for in-person hearings?
It depends on the case. Courts have delayed all jury trials until October 1, 2020, unless the court can handle the matter remotely or the Texas Supreme Court authorizes its scheduling. For essential matters that do not involve juries, the Texas Supreme Court has authorized all courts to handle these cases remotely or in-person if it is not feasible to conduct them online or by phone. Essential proceedings include matters involving Child Protective Services removal hearings, temporary restraining orders/temporary injunctions, and family violence protective orders. Most courts have rescheduled or delayed all non-essential proceedings.
Can I finalize my divorce if we have settled and agreed upon all outstanding issues?
Possibly, but every family court handles settled matters differently. Some courts are not requiring hearings or are allowing affidavits in place of holding hearings to present testimony on an agreement between the parties. In other areas, family courts are holding these hearings, called prove-up hearings, remotely. It’s best to check with the family court in your jurisdiction to see how it currently handles these non-contested matters.
In most counties, a contested divorce is considered a non-essential hearing. Most non-essential hearings have been delayed and rescheduled due to COVID-19. If you have an upcoming court date in your divorce matter, you should check with the court in your jurisdiction to see if the case has been delayed or rescheduled.
I served my ex-spouse with divorce papers before or during the COVID-19 lockdown. Can my divorce be finalized by default if I haven’t received a written answer?
Under normal circumstances, the answer period for a properly served divorce is the Monday after the expiration of 20 calendar days from the service date. Texas law also mandates a 60-day waiting period from the date you filed the divorce petition to finalize a divorce in default. So if both the time to answer and the mandatory waiting period has expired, then a divorcing spouse was eligible to apply for a default divorce hearing in court.
However, because of the pandemic, the Supreme Court has authorized courts to modify or suspend all deadlines to a date no later than 30 days after the governor’s state of disaster has been lifted. To date, the governor’s order is still in effect. Accordingly, Texas Supreme Court has issued an order extending all filing deadlines and procedures to a date no later than September 30, 2020. This order gives local courts the power to extend deadlines to that date as well. So your ex may still have time to file an answer in your divorce case even if time has expired, and you correctly served them.
Do you need help with your divorce during the pandemic? We can help. Contact us today so we can help you navigate the ins and out of family court during the pandemic.