Preparing for court and the court process
- If your case has a Family Violence Indicator, your case will be routed to court.
- At court you will not be required to negotiate in the same room or at the same table as the other parent.
- Keep in mind that even though the OAG will take steps to keep parents separated at court, you may still see the other parent. If a hearing is required, you may have to stand before the judge near the other parent.
Before you go to court, be aware that:
- The Child Support Order will address paternity (if necessary), child support, medical support, custody (conservatorship) and visitation (possession and access).
- For visitation orders, consider requesting the exchange of children at a safe exchange site or via a neutral third party, if needed.
- The court may also order supervised visitation. Supervised visits can be held at a professional facility that has trained staff to supervise visits, or if you and the other parent can agree upon a neutral third party, that third party can supervise visits.
- You will not be provided with an attorney for your child support hearing. In court, there will be an Assistant Attorney General (AAG) present, but this attorney represents the best interest of the state. The AAG does not represent you or the other parent.
- You are not required to have an attorney with you at child support court hearings, but if you would like legal representation, you will need to find your own attorney. If there has been a history of family violence, find an attorney who is knowledgeable in both family law and family violence matters,
- If you are interested in having an advocate assist you through the child support process, some family violence programs across Texas can provide you with that support. For more information about services in your area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go to the TCFV online service directory.
- Safety precautions can be taken for your court date.
At Least a Week Prior to Your Court Date
- Think through possible safe options for visitation and custody arrangements. If you are asking for specific safety precautions or no visitation, be prepared to bring documentation if possible of why this is necessary.
- Talk to staff at the child support office that is handling your case in person or over the phone about your concerns and potential safety precautions that may be taken for your court date.
- Ask about options to minimizing your contact with the other parent: ask if a telephonic court appearance is possible or will be allowed by the judge, request that you be placed “on call,” so you can wait to appear before the judge in a separate area away from the other parent, request court staff to arrange for separate entrances/exits and late or early arrivals/departures for you and the other parent.
- Ask about having security guards and bailiffs in the office building and court, especially if you are in a smaller town where they may not always be present.
- If the staff member you speak to is unable to give you the information or assistance you need, ask to speak to the Office Supervisor, Office Manager, or the Office Ombudsman.
The Day Before Court
- Call the child support office and ask who the lead Assistant Attorney General (AAG) will be for your court hearing.
- Ask that OAG staff inform court security and staff about your family violence situation before the court date.
- If possible, visit the court house in person or find it on a map before your court hearing so you know where it is located. This will enable you to find a safe escape route from the court house, and look to see where the safest place to park would be, or where the nearest bus stop is located.
- Make arrangements for your child(ren) so that you don’t have to bring them to the court hearing. If DNA testing is required, or has not been conducted, you may be asked to bring your child(ren) to court. Click here for more information on genetic testing at a local child support office, while the other parent is not present.
- Ask a family member, friend or advocate to attend the court hearing with you for support.
- Prior to the court date, write down your main points or a statement you would like to make and bring them with you. It is normal for anyone to feel nervous about testifying in court. Writing down your points in advance can help you remember what you want to say.
- Check and make sure that you have all the documents that you have to bring to court such as protective orders, police reports, text messages, etc. If the other parent has sent you letters or online messages that you feel demonstrate a threat to you, it is ok to bring those to court. You may also consider bringing a diary or calendar with dates and times of instances when the other parent has hurt or threatened you.
- Keep in mind that you cannot bring a written statement from a friend or witness. If someone has information about your case that you think it is important for the court to hear, ask that person to come with you to court to testify.
The Day of Court
- Introduce yourself to the OAG staff and ensure that she/he is informed of the family violence situation and point out who the other parent is in the court room.
- If needed, ask security for an escort after the hearing.
While in court:
- In many courts, parents are seen by an Assistant Attorney General (AAG) or child support officer (CSO) prior to going before the judge’s bench for a court hearing. If there is a Family Violence Indicator on your case, the AAG or CSO will meet with each parent separately to negotiate the order.
- If any party to the case cannot agree on any of the terms of the child support order (paternity, child support, medical support, custody, visitation), a hearing before the judge will be necessary.
- –When a hearing is held, parties swear to tell the truth when testifying before the judge.
- Be prepared to speak about your wants, needs and concerns. Remember, it is okay to write out your testimony and read it before the judge.
- The judge will determine what to include in the child support order. This may include an establishment of paternity (legal fatherhood), financial and medical support, conservatorship (custody), and visitation.
- If you realize during the hearing that you need more time to prepare documentation, prepare testimony, or research safe options, ask for a reset or temporary orders which will postpone the final determination of your case. A reset means you will come back to court on another date and start from scratch. A temporary order may address part or all of the issues in the child support order for a specified amount of time; if a temporary order is granted, you will have to come back to court to get a final order at a later date specified by the court.
- After a child support order is finalized, both parents must comply with the court’s order. This means that the person ordered to pay child support must pay child support and the person with primary custody must allow any visitation that is ordered.
- The OAG cannot modify or enforce visitation orders so it is very important not to sign a court order that is not safe for you or your children.- If you have a court order that is unsafe or you are not satisfied with you order, go to Following or Modifying a Child Support Order section.