For many people who file divorce or SAPCR lawsuits, the temporary orders hearing may be the only time they go in front of a judge. These hearings set the status quo on matters such as child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, and access to the marital home while the divorce or SAPCR is pending. While these temporary orders hearings may take place early in the divorce process, they are very important.
Divorce Process in Texas
The divorce process in Texas begins when one spouse files a petition for divorce. Divorce petitions will state the grounds for filing divorce and will request certain forms of relief. Grounds for divorce include fault-based and no-fault-based grounds. Forms of relief include requests for the court to appoint the petitioner as a joint managing or sole managing conservator of children. The petition can request monetary relief like child support of spousal maintenance, too.
In addition to stating grounds and requesting relief, most counties require divorce petitions to include the county’s standing orders. Among other provisions, standing orders prohibit the parties in a divorce from threatening or harassing communication, selling or encumbering marital property, removing children from the state, or otherwise interfering with the other party’s life while the divorce is pending.
But standing orders do not address child support, parental duties or rights, or the ability to deny one party access to their home. That is where temporary orders hearings come into play.
Temporary orders are commands from the judge that require a party to act or not act in certain ways only while the divorce suit is pending. Once a judge signs a final divorce decree, the orders in the decree assume authority over the temporary orders.
Even though the temporary orders only last while the divorce is pending, the outcome of the temporary orders hearing can have a significant impact on the final divorce decree. First, a divorce may remain pending for several months. The temporary orders will impact the parties’ daily lives on a family and financial basis. Second, the party who emerges from the temporary orders hearing with more of what they want will likely be in a stronger negotiating position as the parties attempt to reach a settlement.
The temporary orders hearing will address several important child custody matters like conservatorship and support. Texas divorce law requires the parties to exchange various financial and insurance information within thirty days from the day a response to the original petition is filed. Those disclosures become relevant as the judge will issue temporary orders regarding the care of the children.
At the temporary orders hearing, the judge will determine whether the parents will be named temporary joint managing conservators or not. If the judge appoints the parents as joint managing conservator, one parent will have the right to designate the child’s primary residence. The court may place geographical restrictions on where the parties can live while their divorce is pending. Judges will determine a temporary possession and access schedule. Finally, courts may designate a location and manner in which one parent will hand over the child to the other.
If the court does not appoint both parents temporary joint managing conservators, it will designate one parent as the sole managing conservator and the other as the possessory conservator. For instance, if one parent is named sole managing conservator at the temporary orders hearing, that parent will be able to make the most important decisions regarding the child’s health, moral training, and education. If the court designates a parent as a possessory conservator, that parent will certainly be at a disadvantage when negotiating a parenting plan without going to trial.
At the temporary orders hearing, the court will also set temporary child support obligations. Based on the parties’ financial standing, one party may be ordered to pay temporary child support to the other. Health and dental insurance coverage for the child will also be at issue in the temporary orders hearing. If neither parent agrees to pay for the child’s health and dental insurance, the court will order one or both parents to pay as part of the court’s temporary orders.
The temporary orders hearing can also address which spouse has access and use of various types of marital property. Standing orders do not force either party to leave the marital home. But at a temporary orders hearing, the judge can issue an order that requires one party to find an alternative place to live while the divorce is pending. The judge may authorize the parties to use one specific vehicle and not another. And the court may order one party to reimburse the other for certain expenses arising out of the divorce.
Temporary Orders Hearing
Now that you know about the important issues the temporary orders hearing will address, you should know what the hearing is actually like. Most counties, especially in the larger metro areas in Texas, place time limits on temporary orders hearings. For example, Collin County judges will give both sides twenty minutes to talk during the hearing. The hearing may take place at the courthouse or over a remote platform like Zoom.
With as little as twenty minutes per side, it becomes important to use that time as efficiently as possible. You want your divorce attorney to make effective use of time by doing the following:
- Spend time preparing you in advance for direct and cross-examination
- Train you to answer questions succinctly without going off on tangents
- Waive an opening statement unless there is a unique issue to make the judge aware of
- Admit summaries as evidence for the court to review
- Pick the most important points to discuss in testimony and leave the rest for the judge to review in the summary exhibits
- Leave time to cross-examine the other party
- Leave time to make a closing argument
Since the temporary orders hearing sets the tone for the remainder of the divorce process, it is worth the time and expense to prepare for the temporary orders hearing thoroughly. If you can make your points efficiently, hit the other side where it counts through cross-examination, and leave time for a brief closing argument, you set yourself up for the best outcome possible.