There are many rules and procedures that parties in family cases must follow, but most are required only if the parties do not have an agreed decree. In divorce cases involving children, even if the parties have an agreed decree, the Harris County family courts require that each parent complete a parenting class.
Scheduling OrderIn Harris County, after the suit is filed, the family court automatically issues a scheduling order, setting a trial date. The scheduling order also lists procedures that the parties must complete by certain deadlines before trial. If the parties do not comply with the scheduling order, the court may impose many types of sanctions, including an order that one party pay the other party's attorney's fees or an order dismissing the lawsuit.
MediationOne of the required procedures listed in the scheduling order is mediation. Mediation is is a meeting with both parties and a neutral third person, a mediator. The purpose of mediation is for the parties to reach agreement on as many issues as possible before the final trial. All communications at mediation are confidential, and cannot be used at trial. Most mediators charge at least $300 for half a day of mediation. In certain cases involving minimal property, mediation may be available without charge.
DiscoveryThe scheduling order also sets deadlines for the parties to conduct discovery. Discovery procedures include written interrogatories, requests for documents and depositions. These are useful methods for discovering evidence that should be presented at hearings and the final trial. Either party can issue discovery requests, and the other party must respond to the discovery requests.
Another procedure required in divorce cases is the exchange of tax returns, current pay stubs and sworn inventories. A sworn inventory is a notarized statement of all property and all debts. All of the required pre-trial procedures in a contested family case can significantly increase the amount of attorney's fees incurred by both sides.