Many of our family law clients in the Austin area live in Travis County. I have decided to put together a post to explain how the system works for those current litigants and those thinking about moving forward with a divorce, child custody, or child support issue in Austin.
The Travis County Courthouse hears all family law cases in Travis County. There are two courthouses, one is the civil courthouse and one is the criminal courthouse. The civil courthouse is located at 1000 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas 78701. This is the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse.
Travis County holds two types of family law dockets: the “long docket” and the “short docket.” The “long docket” is held on Mondays for cases that are longer than three hours. Cases that are held on Mondays are usually full day or two day hearings. The “short docket” in Travis County is held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday each week. The “short docket” is reserved for cases set on the Family Law Docket that will take approximately three hours or less. Remember that when calculating which docket you will be on the time estimate includes your case and the time needed for the other party to put on their case and cross examine your witnesses.
Travis County has a “central docket” which means that cases are put on a central calendar and then assigned to judges as the judges become available. The Travis County Family Law docket is the master calendar maintained by the Court Administrator’s Office without regard to the court in which the case was filed. Essentially, this means that each time you set a hearing in Travis County, a new judge could hear your case. The biggest advantage to the central docket is that attorneys and pro se parties do not need to have the court’s approval prior to setting a hearing (as long as proper notice can be given to the other party). This is a drastic change from some of the smaller counties in Texas where parties must beg and plead to get on the court’s calendar by calling a court coordinator and trying to squeeze into what is probably an already jam packed calendar. Travis County allows parties to set hearings here and by calling 512-854-2484 and setting the hearing with the court administrators office.
As stated earlier, hearings that will take approximately three hours or less should be set on the Wednesday, Thursday or Friday “short docket” in Travis County. Hearings that will take more than three hours should be set on a Monday, or “the long docket.” Once your hearing is set and notice has been sent to the opposing party, it’s time to go to “Docket Call.”
Docket call occurs every morning on Mondays during the “long docket” and on Wednesdays, Thursday, and Fridays during the “short docket.” Docket call is the process where attorneys or pro se litigants show up to court and go to a central room to hear where they will be placed that day for their hearing. Docket call is heard by one of the three Associate Judges in Travis County. The newly installed video screens in the Travis County Courthouse will show which room the cases will be called in and parties and their attorneys should be ready to show up and be present at 8:30 a.m. Once at docket call, the judge will ask for announcements from each attorney or party and a time estimate for your case. Although cases are set with time announcements at the time they are placed on the docket, the court always asks for a time announcement because things change and cases settle or issues are reduced.
Cases are on a priority setting based on what number they are on the docket. The earlier a case is set, the higher the priority. Cases are assigned to judges on that day. Each party or attorney does have the option in all family law cases to request a district judge. Once the judges have assigned cases to all of the available judges, the rest of the cases are on standby until a judge becomes available.
Travis County holds an uncontested docket every day of the week at 8:30 a.m. – 9:20 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 2:20 p.m. Check the Travis County Courts Web Page to see which judge will be hearing the uncontested dockets. A court reporter will be available for the morning uncontested docket.
Oftentimes parties are forced into emergency situations in which they need a hearing immediately and without the other party’s knowledge in order to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order or Protective Order. These hearings are for emergencies only and Travis County requires a special setting for these. Please see the Local Rules of Travis County Rules for requirements required by Travis County prior to obtaining these hearings. Ex-Parte hearings are to be heard by the duty judge in Travis County. The duty judge changes from week to week and can be found on the Travis County Courts Web Page. These special hearings can be obtained by calling the specific judge’s staff attorney to work out a hearing time. Most of the staff attorneys will be more than happy to help with making sure the requirements of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Travis County Local Rules are met prior to setting the hearing.
The Law Offices of Judy A. Leecraft & Associates, P.C. has years of experience in efficiently dealing with the Travis County central docket and all facets of setting hearings and having ex-parte hearings granted. Contact us today and let our Austin divorce lawyers and Austin child custody lawyers help you navigate your way through the Travis County court system.
Written by Joe Newberry