In a world where news, updates, and suggestions seem to be changing by the minute, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed about what is happening with the courts in addition to everyday matters. Many courts are limiting which cases they will hear, and most are developing a plan to introduce electronic appearances as soon as possible.
As the courts move to video conferencing to allow essential matters to be heard and address issues that need immediate rulings, we find ourselves in evolutionary state. Needless to say, along with everything else, it’s a fluid situation. We at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers are committed and readily available to help you navigate this uncharted territory and what to expect from the courts over the coming weeks.
Here is a brief synopsis of the changes that have occurred as our communities and nation have mobilized in reaction to the pandemic.
Supreme Court of Texas
On March 19, 2020 the Supreme Court of Texas issued their third emergency order in response to Governor Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 State of Disaster. One of the main points of this emergency order allows the court to conduct proceedings via video conferencing and away from the court’s usual location with reasonable notice and access to the relevant parties and the public. Another key point states that courts in the State of Texas “must not conduct non-essential proceedings, contrary to local, state, or national directives, whichever is most restrictive, regarding maximum group size.”
What this means for your family law case is that the courts are open, for essential issues by video conferencing—only. We’ve discussed what is considered essential in some of our other blog posts about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on your family law matter.
Denton County District Courts first issued guidelines on March 16, 2020 to address concerns over COVID-19. The guidelines stress that if you are sick or believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19, you are required to call the courts to reschedule any hearings or trials. Additionally, the County announced that all non-essential court matters are to be rescheduled and only essential court matters would proceed.
According to the guidelines then and as of the March 24, 2020 amendment, essential court matters include, but were not limited to, the following:
- Any suits or hearings with jurisdictional deadlines,
- Any time-sensitive hearing required to be heard by an appellate court,
- Juvenile Detention Hearings,
- Probate Court, including Mental Health Docket, Temporary Restraining Orders Hearings, Temporary Injunction Hearings, Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 48 - Removal Hearings,
- Criminal Cases,
- Magistrate Court,
- Civil Court - Temporary Restraining Orders, and
- any other matters that the court may designate at its discretion.
Earlier today, the Denton County District Courts announced that non-essential court hearings would be only be held remotely and only after April 1, 2020 and run through the course of the COVID-19 crises.
Since the original guidelines went into place, our Denton County attorneys have been successfully involved in hearings via video appearance. At the time of publication, our District Courts will be conducting hearings in this manner until COVID-19 crises ceases per the Texas Supreme Court’s First Emergency Order and the most recent remote hearing guidelines released today. This time frame, of course, may change in accordance to what is needed for public safety.
Collin County District Courts issued similar guidelines on March 16, 2020. In keeping with other counties, only essential court matters are being heard via video appearance. The County defined essential court matters to include, but not limited to: Family Cases (including IV-D court), including protective orders and family violence, habeas corpus and writs of attachment for children, child welfare suits filed by the government, judicial bypass, Texas Family Code Chapter 157 enforcements, and emergency relief. Additionally, there are certain instances in regard to criminal, civil, and juvenile cases, as well as any other matters designated by the court at its discretion.
Our Collin County Judges are working extremely hard to maintain as much normalcy as possible. While they are not at full capacity, they are holding as many hearings on essential matters as practically possible. Judge Emily Miskel of the 470th District Court is conducting remote proceedings via Zoom and those hearings are being live-streamed to the Court’s YouTube channel.
While the Collin County District Courts has not yet released how they will handle non-essential matters, our Collin County attorneys are closely monitoring the situation and will ensure your non-essential matters are handled as quickly as possible.
On March 23, 2020 the Collin County District Courts issued a Joint Statement Encouraging Mediation relating to Temporary Orders. At this time, there are many mediators that offer their mediation services via video conferencing. Among our team of experienced mediators at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, five are Board Certified Family Lawyers. We have participated in several mediations in via video conferencing both as mediator and representing our clients.
Tarrant County issued their policies on March 13, 2020. As of now, the only matters that will be heard are “extraordinary relief TROs, protective orders, removal hearings, status review and permanency review hearings, writs of habeas corpus and/or attachment, adoptions, and child support bond releases.”
As in the other counties, our Tarrant County attorneys are closely monitoring the changing situation and we will work with you to handle your case as is appropriate within the current guidelines.
On March 12, 2020, Dallas County Family Courts issued a joint statement regarding health and safety concerns and court settings. Similar to surrounding counties, only essential Family Court matters will be heard, with all other in-person hearings and trials being continued for the foreseeable future. The Courts ask that if you need to contact the courts, to do so by phone and/or email. Questions should be sent to the Court Coordinator, and a response will be provided within 24 hours. The court’s website will have the most up-to-date contact information.
What does this mean for you and your case?
Well, it depends.
Our Courts are open and are rapidly adapting. At the current time, however, they are hearing only essential matters. Denton County District Courts will begin adding non-essential hearings to their dockets. Collin, Tarrant, and Dallas Counties will likely add non-essential hearings to their dockets in the upcoming weeks as well.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, we are here to help you find resolution the important family law issues before you and are fully functioning during this critical time. As always, our entire team is working hard to move our cases forward in an expeditious manner and are exploring and applying creative options to do so.
To Help Resolve Your Legal Issues, Consult Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers
If you have legal questions or concerns regarding your case or any issues before you, you may want to speak with an experienced attorney from Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers. With years of experience practicing Texas family law, we can advise you about the appropriate course of action for preserving your legal rights during your divorce.