Hurry up and wait… demystifying the divorce court docket

Here’s a peek behind the curtain into what goes on in your typical family law attorney’s office. A case gets filed and a hearing for temporary orders gets set for hearing. The lawyer instructs his or her staff to call the client and provide information regarding the date and time of the hearing.

Going to court is serious stress for most of us.  If you’re going through a divorce or custody case, it’s the kind of stress that gnaws at you every minute of every day.  Preparations have been made for court, you have rallied your witnesses and gathered key documents.  The court date arrives: you arrive early; wait patiently for hours; and nothing happens.  You confer with your lawyer and learn you’ll have to come back another day.

clockRewind to that call from the lawyer.  Here, it should have been explained that your case is set on the court’s docket for a particular date and time.  Being on the docket and being heard by the court are sometimes two different things!

So, what exactly is a docket.  Webster’s defines “docket” as, “a calendar of cases awaiting court action.”  In Tarrant county and other large counties throughout Texas, family courts have a docket almost every day of the week.  The docket may consist of as many as twenty cases… all scheduled within a three-hour window of time.

At the beginning of each court session, the Judge will call the docket and, in response, lawyers will provide the Judge with a brief synopsis of his or her case, and an estimate of the time required to present evidence.  Depending on a number of factors, the Judge will then “order” the cases on the docket, usually handling brief, rather simple matters first, before moving on to more contested cases.  Depending on the number of cases and their complexity, some cases simply cannot be heard when they are set and need to be reset for  another date, several weeks in the future.

Why are things in family court so unpredictable?  Here, it may help to know that, on any given morning, as many as half of the cases set on the docket may settle without the need for court intervention.  For instances, lawyers and their clients will use the court setting as an opportunity to discuss the issues and work towards an interim agreement.  Because of this, family courts will often set too many cases on the docket, playing the percentages in knowing many of those cases will settle.  While it can be frustrating, and even heartbreaking at times, this practice allows our family courts to dispose of a high volume of cases each year.

At Schreier & Housewirth Family Law, we’ve been helping Tarrant county divorce and child custody clients navigate the legal system for almost 30 years.  Clients have come to respect our no nonsense advocacy and our straightforward advice.  If you are in a difficult divorce or custody case and feeling overwhelmed, turn to us for help… we’re here to help.