In this blog, I want to address an issue that’s been discussed a lot lately: what’s going on here in Tarrant county in terms of how the courts are handling the logistics of their cases and busy dockets?
As you know, in order to protect the public and reduce the spread of COVID-19, things have shut down, and folks in Tarrant County, as well as most counties in Texas, are ordered to stay at home. We’ve got emergency orders and opinions from the governor, county commissioners, city officials, and judges – the common thread is: “shelter-in-place.” With the exception of “essential” businesses, we are all trying to get accustomed to this new normal. Where does that leave the court system?
The court system in Texas is deemed “essential,” so while most of us are staying at home, the world keeps spinning and the courts have to find a way to handle their business under these challenging circumstances. Thankfully we’ve got the internet and advanced technology which allows us to communicate remotely through apps such as Zoom and Skype, and the judges are beginning to iron out the details on how to conduct routine hearings to keep the cases moving along.
Here in Fort Worth, the judges have agreed on “standing orders” which apply automatically in new and pending divorce cases. The standing orders apply also in new and pending Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Those are custody cases, which involve conservatorship, possession and access and child support. This means that, for now, temporary restraining orders need not be filed and walked through the courts.
The idea here is that we keep the peace, protect the children and parties involved, including their property. Regarding children, the standard prohibitions apply – including prohibitions against hiding or removing children. The parties to divorce and custody cases are prohibited from engaging in certain acts, including threatening or abusive communications and behaviors. The parties also cannot exclude another party form the use and enjoyment of a party’s “specifically identified address.”
As for property in divorce cases, common sense applies: Don’t mess around with bank accounts, financial records, and don’t do anything to change the utilities, misdirect mail, or incur debts beyond what’s ordinary. The intent is that we “press pause,” figure out what needs to be done in the short-term regarding children and finances, make temporary orders, and work towards a final resolution of the case.
The emergency standing order is effective immediately upon filing of a divorce case, and in fact must be attached to the original petition when filed. It is effective for 14 days and can become permanent injunctions after that. The emergency standing order is the law of the land here in Tarrant county until May 30th, unless we hear otherwise.