Child Custody Disputes Divorce Marital Property Mediation

Creative Use of Texas Temporary Orders

In my experience, temporary orders are one of the more underutilized tools available to parties going through a divorce in Texas or perhaps struggling with a child custody dispute in Texas.

In essence, temporary orders are exactly what they sound like – orders made by a Texas court on a temporary basis in order to provide some stability and predictability while a case is still pending.  When I say that such orders are “underutilized”, I don’t necessarily mean that parties don’t seek them when they should.  Instead, I mean that people don’t fully appreciate all of the options available in temporary orders.  While there are the obvious provisions concerning conservatorship, access and possession, as well as child support, there are other provisions available for use in temporary orders.

For example, temporary orders can often be used in order to cause a divorce or child custody matter to move along more quickly than it would without such orders.  In Harris County, Texas, depending on the family court you’re assigned to, it often takes several months after your filing date to receive a trial date. That trial date will likely be scheduled anywhere from 3-6 months out.  As any Houston divorce attorney will tell you, that trial date will likely be reset for another 90 to 120 days unless the parties have reached a settlement.  “Why?” you may ask.  Due to the substantial volume of cases in Harris County family courts, divorce and child custody disputes generally become backlogged, with the older cases taken up for trial before the newer ones.  The courts hope that by setting a trial date sooner, the parties will be encouraged to settle sooner.  If they do not, the court simply resets the trial date once its two week trial docket is full of the older cases.

How, then, can you as a litigant in this process, move the case along more quickly?  By proposing and entering into temporary orders with the other party, you can agree to be ordered to mediation well before the trial date.  Obviously, you will want to collect information you need in order to evaluate the marital property, as well as identify and value community assets.  Temporary orders can assist you with that task as well by establishing temporary orders which require the parties to exchange a sworn inventory and appraisement within a specified period of time (60 days is customary).  By requiring an early exchange of inventories, coupled with mediation shortly thereafter, you substantially increase the chances of settling a divorce case within a few months instead of waiting nearly a year to be called to trial.

In addition to inventories, parties can agree to exchange other documentation as part of temporary orders.  One very common set of documents ordered produced as part of temporary orders are income tax returns and paycheck stubs.  These are essential to establishing the amount of child support to be paid by the non-possessory conservator.

Finally, temporary orders can also be used to order the sale of certain assets before a divorce is final.  Most commonly, this means the sale of the marital residence.  Too often we purchase homes assuming the best case scenario – the continuation of a happy, healthy marriage.  When this plan doesn’t go as intended, my clients often find themselves with a home they cannot pay for themselves.  Selling the home is a frequent solution to this problem.  I have often drafted temporary orders which provide for the orderly and fair sale of the marital residence, with the proceeds divided up between the parties in a fair and equitable manner.

If you’re wondering whether seeking temporary orders are appropriate for your particular case, give our Houston divorce attorney, Bobby L. Warren, a call at 713-579-9702.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Mediation

Mediation in Family Law: Is It Worth It?

As I head off to another mediation in a child custody case, I can’t help but recall the all too frequent objections I receive from clients about mediation:

“I don’t understand why we have to do this.  It’s just a waste of time and money.  We’re never going to agree to anything.

Of course, the easy answer would be, “Because the court has ordered us to go to mediation.”

Yet, it’s the last part that really catches my attention.  Often times, in family law cases, the level of vitriol and distrust between parties is unlike any other area of the law.  Emotions are running high and otherwise calm and rational people find themselves at their worst and lowest.  Learning how to tactfully deal with this very understandable position is the greatest challenge for any attorney practicing family law.

I usually respond to this objection by pointing out the statistics:  More than half of all mediated family law cases settle.  In my experience, a much larger number of those settle.

More importantly, there are many other reasons why parties should go into mediation hoping for it to settle and striving for settlement.  Where children are involved, the strife and bickering that comes from fighting a contested divorce or a child custody case impacts those children greatly.  When parties come to an agreement, they have one less dispute in front of them.  Their stress levels drop.  Children notice that mom and dad are no longer fighting.  In addition, most studies and the anecdotal evidence of family law attorneys everywhere reveals an important fact:  Family law cases resolved through mediation are more likely to be successful because the parties each had a hand in crafting the solution.  The alternative is to allow the judge, who has likely never met the parties or their children before the day of their trial, make this important decision for them.  That’s not a good alternative.

So as I head off to what must be my upteenth mediation session, I prepare to put my client’s mind at ease that this process truly is worth it, and they will, like most of my clients before them, thank me for convincing them to give mediation a good faith shot.