Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jurisdiction in Family Law: Specialized Family Courts

 Jurisdiction is the most important initial quesiton a practitioner of family law can ask.  Jurisdiction consists of two things: (1) the court's power, conferred by constitutional or statutory authority, to hear a cause alleged in the petition, and (2) the court's power to award the relief requested. 

In the family law context, a court can only hear a suit affecting children if it has been granted jurisdiction in "family-law matters" which include adoptions, divorces, annulments, child welfare, custody, support issues and relationships of the wife and husband and children.

In Texas, district courts are the primary trial courts and all district courts have family law jurisdiction.  However, the Texas Constitution gives the legislature the power to create specialized "family district courts" to help handle the huge caseload in certain counties.  Follows is a list of counties that have family law district courts:

  • Brazoria
  • Dallas
  • El Paso
  • Fort Bend
  • Galveston
  • Gregg
  • Harris
  • Hutchinson
  • Jefferson
  • Midland
  • Nueces
  • Potter
  • Smith
  • Tarrant
  • Taylor
  • Wharton
These courts have the same jurisdiction as general district courts, but they have primary responsiblity for handling family-law matters, including child support.  This does not prevent a general district court from hearing a family law case however.  But family cases in counties that have these specialized courts will almost always be filed in those courts.