COVID-19 Questions

Are attorneys still working despite the Shelter in Place Orders?

Yes. Our attorneys, paralegals and support staff are still working full time at 100% capacity to continue providing regular services to our existing and new clients… we are just doing it all through phone calls and Zoom conferences instead of in person. See questions re: Hearings and Trials below.

Can I still file for divorce?

Yes. Filing a Petition for Divorce is done electronically. It can be done simply as it always has. We can hire a process server to hand deliver the Petition for Divorce to your spouse if needed or email it to your spouse with a Waiver that has them acknowledge that they received it instead of being formally served.

Is there a benefit to filing my divorce petition now, rather than waiting until the Shelter in Place Orders have been lifted?

Yes. By filing for divorce now, you start the clock on the 60-day waiting period that must pass before you can finalize your divorce. While many divorces take longer than 60 days to complete if the spouses are not in agreement with the terms, divorces can be finalized on the 61st day after filing the Petition if the spouses have agreed on terms and signed their final divorce decree.

Do my spouse and I have to continue “Sheltering in Place” at the same residence while the Shelter in Place Orders are in effect?

No. Upon filing a Petition for Divorce, it is common for one spouse to move out of the marital residence. Judges usually order one person to move out to provide each person space and privacy during the divorce process. If an agreement cannot be reached regarding which spouse should move out of the marital residence, it is likely a Judge would allow a short videoconference hearing on Temporary Orders to decide which spouse should move out, and the temporary payment of support and expenses should be paid while the divorce is pending. However, this is not technically an emergency and is not necessarily as straight forward a request as the Judges would like to see. Whether or not a hearing will take place is a decision that each court is making on a case by case basis. If there is family violence involved, then it becomes an emergency matter which would receive priority and be heard via videoconference while the Shelter in Place Orders are in effect.

Can I file a lawsuit regarding possession and access of a child despite the Stay at Home Orders?

Yes. We file Petitions electronically with the Court to establish relationships and modify relationships between parents and children.

Can I modify my child support if I have lost my job due to COVID-19 layoffs?

You can certainly file a Motion to Modify Child Support and have it served on the other party. By doing so, you preserve the right to request that your child support be modified retroactively to the date that the other party was served with the lawsuit. Some judges are holding temporary orders hearings via videoconference on Motions to Modify. Even if a hearing cannot be held right away to modify the support, the suit should be filed to preserve the right to retroactively modify the support when a hearing is able to take place.

My ex has stopped paying child support claiming she/he was laid off due to COVID-19. Can I file a Motion for Enforcement to get him/her to start paying again?

Yes, but… You can file your Motion and have your ex served. However, it is unclear whether this case would be set for a videoconference hearing while the Stay at Home Orders are in place. The Judges are hearing, through videoconference, only limited matters and cases that don’t require multiple witnesses and a lot of documentary evidence. Decisions about what hearings will take place are being made on a case by case basis by each court. While non-payment of child support does impose a great hardship on the parent receiving support, it is not an emergency and does require important documentary evidence and witness testimony.

Can I get a family violence protective order while the Shelter in Place Order is in effect?

Yes. If you are needing to talk to a lawyer about abuse by someone in your family or household, call a lawyer while you are out of the house “at the grocery store,” or email us from a new email account that you set up for this purpose to be sure you have privacy. Family violence protective orders are an emergency matter that will be heard either in person or via videoconference, or a combination of the two.

How do my spouse and I divide the stimulus check(s) we received from the government?

If you are married and do not have a pre or post-marital agreement regarding your income, then all income received by either spouse is community money, meaning it belongs to both spouses. At the same time, the debts you have as a married couple are community debts. As long as the check is being used to pay community debts, there is no reason to argue about the money. Splitting the money equally is an acceptable way to handle the money.

Can I withhold the children if my ex isn’t following social distancing and Shelter in Place orders?

No. You cannot withhold children in violation of a current Possession Order. You need to file a Petition to Modify Possession and have an evidentiary hearing before a Judge. It is possible that a Judge may allow a short videoconference hearing on this issue while the Courts are closed.

If my ex is working in the healthcare field, can I temporarily change placement of my kids to better protect them from Covid-19 exposure?

By agreement, yes. Without the agreement of the other parent, you cannot withhold children in violation of a current Possession Order. You need to file a Petition to Modify Possession and have an evidentiary hearing before a Judge. It is possible that a Judge may allow a short videoconference hearing on this issue while the Courts are closed.

Where can I find copies of my orders regarding possession and access during this time?

Your possession order is filed with the District Clerk in the County where you were divorced, or if you were not married to the other parent of your child, in the County where the child was living at the time the Order was entered. Each clerk has their own procedure for obtaining copies of orders at this point and you should either contact us for help or the clerk in the county where the order was entered.

If I just recently got divorced, where will my stimulus check go or be deposited?

You should go to the IRS website and access the “Get my Payment” feature. You can provide the IRS with bank account information or update your address there.

Has Covid-19 changed the divorce process in any way?

Yes. The courthouses are essentially closed and are only holding hearings via videoconference (Zoom or Microsoft Teams) for emergency matters and to resolve issues that are limited in scope and do not require multiple witnesses or documentary evidence.

Will the pandemic make my divorce case go slower?

It depends. If you and your spouse are doing things amicably and able to reach an agreement on all terms, your case will not be impacted by the pandemic. A divorce can be conducted from start to finish during the pandemic in the same manner if it is not contested and, therefore, does not require a hearing or trial before the Court. If you can’t agree on a couple of issues and need to have those limited issues ruled on by a Judge, you may be able to have a short videoconference hearing on limited issues. If you can’t agree on anything and need a complete evidentiary hearing with witnesses and documentary evidence, you will have to wait until the Courts fully re-open. At this time, the Courts in Travis County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials through May 8 for non-jury trials and August 14 for jury trials with possible extensions of those closures; the Courts in Williamson County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials until further order for non-jury trials and until June 30 for jury trials, and the Courts in Hays County are operating under similar orders for the foreseeable future.

If my court date for my final trial is scheduled for a date when the Shelter in Place Order is still in effect, will my trial be postponed?

Yes. If your hearing or trial is set between now and May 8, it needs to be rescheduled to a later date. If your jury trial is set between now and August 14, it needs to be rescheduled to a later date.

How long is the courthouse closed?

At this time, the Courts in Travis County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials through June 26 for non-jury trials and August 14 for jury trials with possible extensions of those closures; the Courts in Williamson County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials until further order for non-jury trials and until June 30 for jury trials, and the Courts in Hays County are operating under similar orders for the foreseeable future.

If the courthouse is closed, what issues will the Judges hear remotely via videoconference?

Emergency matters, and some limited issues that can be presented with very little witness testimony or documentary evidence.

Child Custody Mediation Lawyer

What happens in mediation for child custody?

Mediation for a child custody case is typically a day-long meeting at which the parties try to make agreements to settle the case.

Mediation will usually occur at the mediator’s office, with each party in separate conference rooms. Typically, there will not be a face-to-face meeting between the parties.

Mediation proceeds in an offer-counteroffer format, with the mediator helping each party develop their offers and communicating them to the other side. The child custody mediator’s job is to advocate for settlement—in other words, the mediator guides you toward compromises that will work for both parties.

Importantly, the mediator does not get to decide anything—the parties always have control and can choose to say “yes”, “no”, or simply make another counteroffer. The goal of mediation is to create and have everyone sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that addresses all of the issues in your child custody case.

Once an MSA is signed by all parties (and their divorce attorneys, if any), it is binding on all parties and cannot be revoked or overturned. It is normal for mediation to last all day and even into the evening depending on the difficulty of the case. However, the parties are always free to decide to end the mediation early if they believe that no progress is being made.

The custody mediator is normally paid by the hour, similar to the lawyers. Mediation can be an expensive day, but it is far less expensive than the cost of going to trial.

How do I prepare for child custody mediation?

Ideally, you want to have a first offer ready to go prior to mediation, and you also want to have a fairly clear idea of what your bottom line is.

This is where your divorce attorney comes in—he or she will be able to guide you in deciding how to achieve your goals in mediation. In particular, you should prepare a budget (the court has a standard form for this) so that the child support discussion is anchored in real-world numbers. You should also prepare at least an outline of your desired outcome for parental decision-making rights and the parties schedule with the children.

This preparation is difficult to do without the help of an experienced family lawyer. Your lawyer’s experience is your guide to what is reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances of your case, and what is likely to happen at court if you do not reach an agreement.

Contested Divorce Lawyer

How does a contested divorce work?

For a detailed look at the process, see our Divorce Litigation Process Guide.

What does contested divorce mean?

A contested divorce means that the parties are unable to settle or agree on the terms of their divorce and that the case must be decided by a judge and/or a jury. The parties may disagree on how their property should be divided, the character of property (whether separate or community), or they may disagree on child related issues.

How long does it take to get a contested divorce?

There is no set amount of time that it takes to finalize a contested divorce. The average range for a contested divorce is 6-12 months.

More complex and more intensely contested cases take longer and, if the case is tried before a jury, it will certainly take even longer. The length of time for a case to reach completion depends on a variety of factors, and each case is different.

Divorce Litigation

What happens at first divorce hearing?

A first divorce “hearing” is usually a hearing on temporary orders.

Sometimes, parties cannot agree on who will get to live in the house during the pendency of the divorce, what the possession schedule for the children will be, or how money will be handled while the divorce is pending. The court has the ability to decide all of those questions, and a hearing with evidence from both parties – like a mini-trial – will be held to put temporary orders in place to govern the parties while the case is pending.

Often, parties are able to avoid a hearing on these issues and can come to an agreement on who will move out of the marital residence, where the kids will live, how money will be spent, etc. If not, one or both parties will file a Motion for Temporary Orders, and the judge will decide those important questions for them.

Other issues may be the subject of hearings, such as temporary restraining orders and injunctions, protective orders (in cases involving family violence), disputes over access to financial information and other important documents, and any other issue that needs to be addressed before a final settlement can be reached or final trial conducted.

Is mediation better than divorce court?

Most of the time, the answer to that is yes.

Mediation is often required, and it usually results in settlement. It saves both parties money, as preparing for and conducting a trial can be very expensive. It also gives both parties a sense of ownership of the result.

Both parties and their divorce lawyers are usually able to recognize that there is a risk involved in putting the contested issues before a judge or jury, and there is value in settling a case in a manner that eliminates that risk.

Why would a divorce go to trial?

The simple answer is that a divorce must go to trial if the parties are unable to settle it in mediation or otherwise.

Although the vast majority of cases are settled outside of court, some end up being decided by a judge and/or jury. While a judge must decide how property is going to be divided and what possession schedule the parties will have with the children, a jury can decide such things as:

  • The characterization of property (whether separate or community),
  • Who should have the right to designate the primary residence of the children,
  • Whether a primary parent will be subject to or can lift a geographic restriction
  • In the case of a claimed common law marriage, whether a marriage even exists

Sometimes, one or both parties have unrealistic expectations about what they should get in a property division. If the other party believes that a judge will treat him or her better than the other party is willing to do in a settlement, they may prefer to spend the money on a trial instead, and let a judge decide how to divide the property.

In cases involving children, the question of who should be the primary caretaker of the children and how much possession or access each party should have may not be something on which either party is willing to compromise – in that event, a judge and/or jury will have to decide.

Whether a party will be allowed to move out of a restricted geographic area sometimes has to be decided by a judge or jury, as there is often no middle ground to be reached when one party desires to move for a better job or because a new spouse is being transferred outside of the area. In short, any time finding a middle ground is difficult or even impossible, a divorce or modification case (child-related issues) can end up in trial.

Contested Custody Case Lawyer

How do you respond to a petition for custody?

The Respondent should meet with a divorce attorney to review the options available. If the Petition was not filed in the correct court, there are some objections that need to be made before an Answer to the lawsuit is filed.

Typically, responding to a Petition in a custody case is as simple as filing a one page Answer. The Answer needs to be filed by 10 a.m. on the first Monday after the expiration of 20 days from the date the Respondent was formally served with the Petition.

If a timely Answer is not filed by the Respondent, the Petition could go to the courthouse without notice to the Respondent and take a default judgment against the Respondent.

Who is the respondent in a child custody case?

The Respondent is the person against whom the lawsuit has been filed. The person who filed the lawsuit is called the Petitioner. The Respondent is technically “responding” to the lawsuit.

What is contested hearing in Family Court?

A contested hearing in Family Court can be a temporary hearing or final trial at which the parties present evidence to the Judge (through personal testimony, documents and testimony from other witnesses) regarding the facts of the case. The Judge then makes a decision based on the evidence presented.

An uncontested hearing is one at which the parties have reached an agreement, and are only presenting their agreed order to the Judge so that the Judge can render judgment and sign the order.

What is a contested custody case?

A contested custody case is a lawsuit regarding the conservatorship (decision making), possession and financial support of children in which the parents (or people wanting to act as parents) cannot reach an agreement on how the case should be resolved.

A case may start out as contested, but settle through negotiation or mediation after the parties involved have been advised by their lawyers, and have spent time working through the issues to reach an agreement on all terms.

A case may start out as “uncontested” where the parties think they are on the same page regarding the terms of a final agreement, only to realize as they work through the details with their lawyers, that they are not in agreement.

A contested custody case will require a hearing or trial before the court, after which the Judge will issue a ruling based on the evidence presented.