What To Expect

What To Expect

Before you worry about what to expect from lawyers, judges and the Family Court, focus on what you can control the most – yourself.

I realize you are surprised I led with this but there’s a good reason for it. There are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Expect you will know your facts before you walk into Divorce Court. If you think your lawyer is supposed to know everything and you don’t need to do anything but show up to Divorce Court, you are doing yourself and your case a disfavor. Expect you will be in Divorce Court prepared for the outcome.
  2. Experienced divorce lawyers will tell you that Divorce Court isn’t black and white. You don’t walk in, read a script and get handed the predestined result. Expect you will have to read your paperwork and know it well before you walk into Court, whether that is your declaration, that of witnesses, your lawyer’s legal arguments presented to the Court or all of it. You will need to read what your spouse and his or her lawyer have presented to the Court. A prepared mind is rarely surprised and what you should expect in Divorce Court is you, prepared and ready.
  3. Expect you will not let fear, stress or emotion take over in Family Court. It is normal to be scared. It would be odd if you were not stressed out. If you don’t get emotional at some point about your divorce, you’re not human. But realize that letting any of it take over your thought process is foolish and may not lead to good results. You should expect in Divorce Court that you will be factual, logical and as unemotional as you can in regards to your decision-making process. That means when your lawyer speaks with you about choices to make, you make them based on the facts, not anger or other unhealthy emotions.
  4. Expect you will tell the truth in Divorce Court even if your spouse lies. Yes, this should go without saying but I am still writing it to emphasize a critical point. I do so because the temptation may be there and you should not give in to it.

What to expect in Divorce Court from your lawyer?

You should expect your lawyer to be prepared in Divorce Court. Just like you will be familiar with your case, your lawyer should be too. He or she should know the facts, know what your testimony will be, what questions will be asked of your spouse and witnesses and how the arguments will be presented to the judge. While Family Court isn’t scripted, it’s not an ad-lib process either.

You should expect your lawyer to communicate with your spouse’s lawyer while in Family Court. Family law is a small community even in Harris County. Lawyers who exclusively practice family law, like me, will generally know our colleagues well because we have gone up against many of them in other cases. Lawyers are expected to discuss the case and attempt resolution or at least narrow the issues for the Court to avoid situations where everything is in dispute and nothing is able to get resolved.

You should expect your divorce lawyer will talk with you extensively as the Court day progresses. In Family Court, your divorce lawyer should be in regular communication with you about several topics. These include (a) status of discussions with your spouse’s lawyer (b) status of settlement potential or narrowing of issues and (c) regular status updates on your matter (including when your case is expected to start).

What to expect in Divorce Court from the judge?

Once again, much of what we write here is again from our experience. Family Courts do vary from county to county but the difference is usually not dramatic on the list we are about to give you:

You should expect the Family Law Judge will have to juggle your court case along with others on his or her calendar. There is one exception and that is if your case is “pref- set” for the judge’s calendar. That means the Family Law Judge has previously carved out specific time to dedicate to your case.

You should expect the Family Law Judge will have to prioritize the types of cases. This falls under the category of what the Family Law Judge “should do” although they don’t always do it. There is a priority in which cases are supposed to be heard. That priority from first to last is: (1) domestic violence cases (2) child custody cases (3) everything else. That means, for example, if you are in Family Court on a child custody case, you should take priority over every other case on the judge’s calendar other than domestic violence cases.

You should expect the Family Law Judge will want your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer to give the judge a “time estimate.” Lawyers are sometimes bad at estimating how long a hearing will take. That is mostly because family law cases are tough to predict, even among very experienced divorce lawyers. The longer the time estimate, the more challenging it will be to fit your case in the calendar. But giving short time estimates when the matter will take longer is not wise. It could lead to an upset Family Law Judge and your matter continued anyway.

You should expect the Family Court will want to know why your matter has not settled. Courts are congested. Some Courts are more than others. Even certain courtroom departments in the same courthouse are much busier than others. For these reasons, the judge will want to know why your case hasn’t resolved and it is possible the Family Court will even nudge each lawyer to continue to talk about resolution while you wait for your case to be heard. Some judges are more assertive than others about this. Some make suggestions. Others will expect the lawyers to participate into a chamber’s conference and some judges even make suggestions on what a settlement should be.

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