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What is a Family Law Pretrial Conference in Texas?

A pretrial conference in a Texas family law court is a common way to move along your case. Basically, it is meeting between the judge and opposing lawyers ahead of a trial. The purpose is to give the judge an understanding of the contested issues in the case and approximately how long the trial is expected to last.

Both attorneys must be present at the pre-trial conference, but clients aren’t always required to attend.

Family law pretrial conferences – sometimes referred to as pretrial hearings – are not required in every Texas or Tarrant County case, but each court can decide on its pretrial procedures under Rule 166 of Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. In this article, we answer common questions about pre-trial conferences, but first, please take a moment to watch this informative video by Senior Associate Attorney Kristen Carr.

What are Tarrant County’s rules for a family law pretrial conference?

The policy of Texas family law courts, including in Tarrant County, is to encourage amicable resolution of litigation. This often involves alternative dispute resolution. 

A Tarrant County court can set a family law pretrial conference, or an attorney can request one. If a pretrial conference is set, attorneys for both sides are required and expected to discuss the points of dispute with the court and the expected length of the trial.

Tarrant County procedural rules state that both sides must be represented by the lead attorney or an attorney “familiar with the case and the party’s position on the law and facts, and authorized to make stipulations of fact.” Of course, someone representing themselves in the case is required to attend the conference.

The court may refer a case to alternative dispute resolution under Chapter 154, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, and 6.602 and 153.0071 of the Texas Family Code. This is commonly referred to as ADR in Texas and is often facilitated by an agreed-upon third party in mediation. Decisions and deadlines about mediation are often made during a pretrial conference.

What does mediation mean in Texas family court?

In mediation, both sides agree to use an impartial mediator to help facilitate communication between two parties “to promote reconciliation, settlement, or understanding among them,” according to Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 154.023.

A mediator doesn’t offer their judgment on the issues between the parties. If a resolution can be reached, the mediator will draft a Mediated Settlement Agreement, which is irrevocable. That agreement will be used to create a final order and signed by a family court judge.

What happens if a lawyer misses a pretrial conference?

If an attorney or someone representing themselves misses a pretrial conference, the judge could move forward with important decisions and deadlines in the case anyway. The moves the Tarrant County Family court could make include:

1. Rule on all motions, dilatory pleas, and exceptions in the absence of such
person, including declaring such to be waived
2. Advance or delay the trial setting according to the convenience of the persons present
3. Pass and reset the pretrial
4. Decline to set the case for trial or cancel a pending setting
5. Dismiss the case for want of prosecution or grant a default judgment, as appropriate, provided counsel and pro se parties were properly notified to appear
6. Grant sanctions or other relief

Are pretrial conferences and status conferences the same thing? 

No, but they are very similar and often serve the same function. Generally, a pretrial conference will be the last meeting before the trial, and a status conference often occurs early in the case.

A case could have multiple conferences called before a trial or a resolution. If the issues in the case are complicated – some child custody cases, for example – might require several conferences.

What are the goals of family law pretrial conferences in North Texas?

Judges often hope to use family law pretrial conferences as an opportunity for both sides to come to some agreement. The goals of a pretrial conference are:
* Allow both sides to participate in the problem-solving process
* Present settlement options which would not necessarily be available at trial
* Allow both sides to receive the benefit of a trial judge’s views on issues that remain unresolved
* If a settlement is not achieved, to help narrow the issues that require a trial and arrive at all reasonable agreements that will minimize the trial time
* Take any steps which will improve the efficiency of the trial and save time and costs for parties and witnesses

What types of family cases often have pretrial conferences?

Judges often use pretrial conferences to establish a schedule for the trial or other pretrial conferences. Pretrial conferences can be called in all types of family court cases, including:
* Divorce/annulment with children
* Paternity with child support
* Child support obligation/modification
* Conservatorship
* Divorce/annulment without children
* Paternity without child support
* Termination of rights

What types of issues are often discussed at family law pretrial conferences?

* Motions the defendant or defendant’s attorney wants to file
* Motion of discovery (any facts and information about the case)
* Motion for continuance (set a new trial date)
* Motion to suppress evidence (prevent from revealing to a jury)
* Appointment of an interpreter, if necessary

Is a pretrial conference a court hearing?

No, but necessary decisions are often made by the judge in the case at a pretrial conference. 

What is the purpose of pretrial conferences in Texas?

According to the Texas rules of civil procedure, family law pretrial conferences can be used to address the following issues:
* Discovery (both sides show evidence planned to use at trial)
* Amendment or clarification of pleadings
* Admission of facts and documents to smooth the trial process
* Limit the number of witnesses at trial
* Identify facts, if any, not in dispute between the parties
* Mediation or other alternative dispute resolution services
* Possible settlement
* Setting trial dates that are amenable to the court and all parties
* Appointment of interpreters, if necessary
* Apply Rule of Civil Procedure not in Part V or a Rule of Evidence
* Any other issue the court deems appropriate

Who attends a Texas family court pretrial conference?

Clients must be represented by an attorney at a pretrial conference. In fact, some judges might prefer consulting with only the attorneys and in the privacy of the judge’s chambers to iron out specific issues. In a divorce case, this allows for more privacy of the case details because most information shared in a courtroom is public record. Anything in the judge’s chambers is not.

When will a Texas judge schedule a pretrial conference?

A family law pretrial conference could be called weeks or months before the trial. If the case is very contentious, it’s best to call a pretrial conference early on in the case.

What happens in a pretrial conference in divorce cases? 

Family law pretrial conferences help the court understand the unresolved issues between the two sides. Each attorney has the opportunity to present any unresolved issues during the conference. The judge will likely set a remaining schedule for more conferences or hearings or set a trial date at the conference. If the judge has a busy schedule, your divorce trial could be delayed for months.

Need help with a divorce or family law case? Call us.

Anyone in Tarrant County embroiled in a family law dispute needs strong representation in court. The Varghese Summersett Family Law Group is here to help. Our team will guide you through the process and help you start a new chapter in your life. To schedule a consultation, call us at 817-900-3220.  

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