Much of our family law practice takes place in the Collin County courts. I’ve learned recently that the county is creating new courts which have specific jurisdiction over family law matters, such as divorce. I believe this will be greatly beneficial to the people of Collin County – especially those who end up in court over divorces and other family law matters.
Currently, a large portion of the case load in Collin County courts pertains to family law, and yet there are still no specific family law courts in Collin County. This means that the judges are dealing with corporate lawsuits or criminal cases while trying to manage a large number of family law cases. Family law cases can be very time consuming, dealing with the emotions of the parties and some complex legal aspects as well.
The volume of cases involving family law in Collin County have led to some guidelines to help deal with case volumes – for instance, any preliminary hearings on an issue in divorce cases is limited to 20 minutes per side. Typically, those kinds of hearings could take hours for some clients – especially in complex cases where the Court must determine who will remain in the family home, where the children will live and how the income and assets will be used during the divorce.
Though such a provision is not optimal for lawyers unaccustomed to such limitations, it’s been a necessity for a court system that might otherwise be overwhelmed by the family law cases coming through it.
The creation of additional courts, then, is an encouraging sign that Collin County is acknowledging its growth and expanding its capacity for trying cases. The expectation that the judges appointed to these courts will have family law backgrounds helps in another important way – when judges have family law experience, they’re typically more familiar with alternative dispute resolution processes such as collaborative law and mediation, as well as family dynamics, child development, the impact of divorce on children, etc. For these reasons, the practicing lawyers are, and the Collin County community should be, hopeful that the Governor, and then the voters, will put experienced family lawyers on these benches.
The so-called “cookie-cutter” solutions that are applied in litigated settlements often happen because they’re within the comfort level of a judge who doesn’t specialize in family law. Even if it’s a litigated case, a judge comfortable working on family law cases is typically willing to do informal meetings for the purposes of moving toward settlement. And, of course, judges would rather see cases that don’t have to go to court be settled out of court – freeing up the docket for those cases that absolutely require litigation. This also decreases the exposure of children to the negative impact of the litigation process.
I look forward to what the future holds in Collin County. I’ve enjoyed my experiences with the Collin County courts to date, but I do feel that these new courts will help better distribute its significant case load, and will improve the experience of everyone involved with the court.