Filing for divorce in Texas triggers numerous emotions for both parties, and it is reasonable to be concerned about how your spouse will react when he or she receives notice of your divorce petition. If you are the person filing for divorce, Texas courts will call you the petitioner. The spouse receiving divorce papers is known as the respondent. Family law courts in Texas anticipate the respondent may react negatively when he or she receives notice of the divorce. Therefore the Texas family code authorizes something known as a temporary restraining order, which restrains a party in the divorce from engaging in certain forms of conduct. For more information about the divorce process in Texas, click here.
Ex Parte Order
Divorce lawyers request temporary restraining orders (“TROs”) through ex parte motions. Judges grant TROs ex parte, meaning the judge can issue a temporary restraining order without a hearing. Sections 6.501 and 105.001 of the Texas Family Code allow divorce attorneys to protect spouses and children and preserve property during the pendency of a divorce.
Prohibitions in a Temporary Restraining Order
Section 6.501 includes numerous prohibitions designed to protect families and property during the turbulent time of a divorce. Some, but not all, of those prohibitions are:
- intentionally communicating in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, with the other party by use of vulgar, profane, obscene, or indecent language or in a coarse or offensive manner, with intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
- threatening the other party in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, to take unlawful action against any person, intending by this action to annoy or alarm the other party;
- placing a telephone call, anonymously, at an unreasonable hour, in an offensive and repetitious manner, or without a legitimate purpose of communication with the intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to the other party or to a child of either party;
- threatening the other party or a child of either party with imminent bodily injury;
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly destroying, removing, concealing, encumbering, transferring, or otherwise harming or reducing the value of the property of the parties or either party with intent to obstruct the authority of the court to order a division of the estate of the parties in a manner that the court deems just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage;
- intentionally misrepresenting or refusing to disclose to the other party or to the court, on proper request, the existence, amount, or location of any tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
- intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
- selling, transferring, assigning, mortgaging, encumbering, or in any other manner alienating any of the property of the parties or either party;
- incurring any debt, other than legal expenses in connection with the suit for dissolution of marriage;
- withdrawing money from any checking or savings account in a financial institution for any purpose;
- canceling, altering, failing to renew or pay premiums on, or in any manner affecting the level of coverage that existed at the time the suit was filed of, any life, casualty, automobile, or health insurance policy insuring the parties’ property or persons, including a child of the parties;
- opening or diverting mail or e-mail or any other electronic communication addressed to the other party;
- taking any action to terminate or limit credit or charge credit cards in the name of the other party;
- deleting any data or content from any social network profile used or created by either party or a child of the parties;
- using any password or personal identification number to gain access to the other party’s e-mail account, bank account, social media account, or any other electronic account;
- excluding the other party from the use and enjoyment of a specifically identified residence of the other party;
- entering, operating, or exercising control over a motor vehicle in the possession of the other party.
What a Temporary Restraining Order Cannot Do
Since judges issue temporary restraining orders without a hearing, TROs cannot:
- exclude a spouse from occupancy of the residence where that spouse is living except as provided in a protective order made in accordance with Title 4;
- prohibit a party from spending funds for reasonable and necessary living expenses; or
- prohibit a party from engaging in acts reasonable and necessary to conduct that party’s usual business and occupation.
Many counties include standing orders and require spouses to attach a copy of the standing orders to the divorce petition that ultimately gets served to the respondent spouse. Click here for Collin County’s standing orders. For Denton County, click here.
How to get a Temporary Restraining Order
The Texas Family Code prohibits a person from filing a temporary restraining order as a standalone document. You can only request a temporary restraining order in conjunction with a lawsuit filed under the family code, such as a divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (“SAPCR”). The motion for the temporary restraining order can either be included in the original petition, or you can file the motion for a TRO as a separate document after you file the original petition. It is more cost-efficient to file the motion for a temporary restraining order in conjunction with the original petition because you will only pay one set of filing fees instead of two.
Steps for Obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order
- You will first need to electronically file your petition and the motion for a temporary restraining order with the district clerk of your county.
- Present the motion for a temporary restraining order to a judge
- The clerk will tell you to which court your petition has been assigned.
- Check the local rules. Some judges will insist you take the motion only to them for review and signing. Other judges will allow you or your attorney to present your TRO to an associate or visiting judge.
- The judge will rule on your motion for a temporary restraining order
- If your motion includes a request for relief not listed in section 6.501, it is wise to include a sworn affidavit explaining to the court why extraordinary relief is justified.
- If the judge grants your temporary restraining order, you must next serve a copy of the TRO to the respondent.
- The court will hold a hearing, usually after 14 days, to determine whether the temporary restraining order will become a temporary injunction.
A temporary injunction is the same as a temporary restraining order except that it lasts until the divorce or SAPCR is resolved by a final decree.
Enforcing a Temporary Restraining Order
If a party in a divorce or SAPCR fails to abide by the temporary restraining order, the judge can hold that party in contempt, which means a fine, jail time, or a combination of the two. There are two forms of contempt: civil and criminal.
Civil contempt uses fine and jail time to compel behavior. For example, a court could hold a parent in jail until he or she pays court-ordered child support.
Criminal contempt punishes past behavior. For example, if a party in a divorce hid money, made harassing phone calls, damaged property, or made disparaging remarks on social media, the court could issue a fine or jail sentence for each incident of contempt.
Filing for Divorce in Texas?
Contact the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson for a consultation today. We can guide you through the divorce process in Texas, starting with a temporary restraining order.