Thursday, July 22, 2010

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)

In Texas, our Family Code provides standard language for restraining orders that can be requested and served on parties at the beginning of a divorce. To a layperson, the language may seem harsh and even accusatory. Parties who get served with a restraining order often read a lot of details into it and make a lot of assumptions. In the court system, however, little significance is attached to it.

A very common procedure is for a party to file for a divorce and request a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an order setting hearing. In some counties in Texas, there's an automatic order that goes into effect immediately against both parties (it's made "mutual"), to preserve the status quo. In Tarrant County, we don't have that immediate "standing order", but judges routinely grant TROs and then make them mutual at the first hearing date. In other words, the TRO is effective against the party who gets served with it, beginning with the time of service, and then the same language is normally applied against both parties when the judge starts making temporary orders.

Sometimes parties served with a TRO are worried that they have been accused of a wide range of bad acts. That's not the case. A TRO is just an example of a fairly common approach in the law that says "Don't do these things", without saying "I think you did these things in the past". TROs are routine and courts don't put any significance on them as far as proof, or even accusations, of past acts.

It's really like everyone is starting with a clean slate and the judge says to leave things as they are and don't do anything to harm the other party.

Bottom Line: Don't sweat it if you get served with a TRO. Take it to your lawyer and go over the details so you can comply with it in the future. Your reputation is still intact.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Who Should I Bring to Court?

Most non-Collaborative Law divorces in Tarrant County start out with a temporary hearing right away after the other spouse has been served with papers. Depending on what the issues are for court, you may feel the need to bring witnesses, especially if your close friends and family suggest it to you.

While witnesses are sometimes necessary, too much of a good thing can be bad. Here's a way to approach the decision on who should attend:

First, ASK YOUR ATTORNEY! It's not good to just surprise your attorney by bringing a whole crowd of witnesses and supporters. It's also not good to do nothing and not tell your attorney who you can bring. There may be some witnesses your attorney would appreciate knowing about, so discuss the facts and possible witnesses with your attorney, and then follow your attorney's advice on who to bring.

Second, bring people with personal knowledge of relevant facts who have been approved by your attorney. The witnesses, as much as possible, should be unblemished citizens of high character. If some of your witnesses have little "issues", you should inform your attorney well in advance. You might also vet your witnesses by looking them up on FaceBook, My Space and Google. Check their postings and pictures for embarrassing details. Print off what you find.

Third, don't bring the kids unless the judge has specifically requested it.

Fourth, don't bring a huge group of witnesses and supporters.
The judge does not count the supporters for each side and make the larger group the winner. A big group is disruptive and can be loud. You don't need to have a lot of people showing up and giving you advice all day at court. You just need to work with your lawyer.

Fifth, bring all necessary documents that you have. Telling the judge that you can go home or go to your pick up to get the records won't help. The only thing that counts is what is presented in court. As the Scouts say, Be Prepared! Bring whatever you may need and share it with your attorney.

Your day in court will be a lot easier if you discuss your questions, especially ones about witnesses, in advance with your attorney. Good luck!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tips for Avoiding Holiday Explosions

Traditionally, holidays present an opportunity for family fun and relaxation or for conflict. Families tend to create their own hierarchy of preferred holidays. Work and vacation schedules have a major influence on whether certain holidays are important or not for a family. Once there is a divorce or a court order to manage child possession schedules, conflicts sometimes surface.

Court orders tend to create some arbitrary divisions of holidays, and sometimes that's the best approach because the parties just will not agree on anything. In a more mature environment, however, there are ways to minimize the conflict. With the 4th of July approaching, here's some tips to keep in mind to help maintain a peaceful holiday.

  • Plan ahead. If you can work out plans well in advance, that will reduce everyone's stress. Waiting until the last minute probably means that plans have already be made by everyone and that someone will be unhappy about changing. While you may not be able to plan ahead all the time, it's always a good idea to start weeks or months ahead of the holiday. It will be easier to coordinate schedules and activities and to come up with alternatives.
  • Keep things in perspective. Remember that holidays come around every year and that it's often easy to have family events on nearby dates, if the holiday "belongs" to someone else this year.
  • Communicate. There are often ways to work things out if everyone can just talk directly -- and nicely. Don't make assumptions about what other people are doing or about their motivations. Sometimes people get all upset thinking about something when the issues could be worked out by a discussion.
  • Be respectful. No matter who has primary custody or what label is attached to a party, think about how you would like to be approached. Making demands or criticizing the other parent (or their family) or whining are not winning strategies. If you want a favor, be humble.
  • Think about the kids. This shouldn't be a contest of wills between two adults. It shouldn't be a question of who has the superior "ownership" of a time period. Hopefully, any special requests made will really be a benefit for the children. If the parents will analyze the situation in light of the children's best interests, many fights can be avoided.
Reasonable parents should be able to work out conflicting holiday schedules if they approach the other parent as they would want to be approached. Keeping these suggestions in mind should give parties a good chance of resolving scheduling issues before the fireworks really begin!