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Standing Orders in Texas Family Law Cases

When a divorce or custody case ensues, many counties have protections in place to ensure that everyone has a set of rules to follow during the case. In family law, we call these rules Standing Orders.

What is a Standing Order?

A Standing Order is a court-issued set of rules and expectations that apply to all Parties of a family law case. Standing Orders serve as guidelines that govern the behavior and conduct of the individuals involved in a case. Standing Orders are typically in effect the moment that a family law case is filed. The Standing Orders last until the conclusion of the case.

The Standing Order contains the rules a Party must follow and conduct that a Party should be refrained from doing. Standing Orders are essentially a list of Injunctions. An Injunction is a Court Order that directs a party to refrain from to take a specific action.

Who does a Standing Order apply to?

Who does the Standing Order apply to? The simple answer is – the Parties to the lawsuit. In a divorce case, both spouses must comply with the Standing Order. If the case is only related to the children, like a modification or suit-affecting the parent-child relationship, then both parents of the child will be under the rules of the Standing Order.

What is the purpose of a Standing Order?

There are many reasons that a family law court establishes Standing Orders. One purpose of Standing Orders is to preserve the status-quo. When Parties divorce, the Court wants to take a snapshot of what the Parties life looks like. Then they want to maintain that snapshot throughout the litigation. The Court does this to ensure that all existing arrangements are preserved and that financial matters remain unchanged.

Another purpose of Standing Orders is to prevent retaliation. If a Party does not know the other parent or their spouse started litigation, when that person finds out they could be upset. A parent could pick the child up from daycare and not return home. A spouse could hide assets or take the other spouse off the joint credit card. The Standing Orders aim to prevent one Party from causing harm to the Other Party or the property.

Common Provisions in Standing Orders

There are three themes that typically emerge from Standing Orders: Conduct of the Party, Preservation of Property and Concerns about Children. Below is a list of examples of the prohibitive rules contained in a Standing Order for the three themes mentioned above.

  • Conduct of the Party
    • Making harassing phone calls to the Other Party
    • Opening the Other Party's mail
    • Threating the Other Party
    • Communicating with the Other Party in a harassing manner
  • Preservation of Property
    • Destroying or damaging the Other Party's property
    • Selling assets without an agreement
    • Terminating utilities on the house
    • Changing beneficiary designations on life insurance policies
  • Concerns about Children
    • Removing the children from Texas
    • Withdrawing the children from school or day-care
    • Hiding or secreting the children
    • Disturbing the children's peace

It should be noted that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Remember to read these rules as restrictions – for example: “A Party is prohibited from making harassing phone calls to the Other Party.”

What can I do under a Standing Order? 

While most of the Standing Order contains provisions that a Party must refrain from, there are a few common items Parties are authorized to do.

  • Engage in reasonable and necessary acts to conduct your business and occupation
  • Spend money and incur debt for reasonable attorney's fees and expenses in connection with the case
  • Spend money and incur debt for reasonable and necessary living expenses for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care

It should be noted these provisions only apply in divorce cases.

One thing these authorizations have in common is the word reasonable. It is difficult for the Court to make blanket rules that apply to everyone. Why? Because everyone is different. We all have different cultures, norms, jobs, income, and estate size. What is reasonable for one set of spouses may differ from another set of spouses. If you have questions about Standing Orders and how they apply to your case, call (832) 781-0320 today.

What Counties Have Standing Orders? 

Standing Orders are established by county. Harris County does not have Standing Orders. However, Waller County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County do.

If you reside in a county that does not have Standing Orders, there still may be a way to obtain relief. The Court could issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which offers the same relief as a Standing Order. Remember, in family law, a TRO is a list of actions that a party is prohibited from taking – not an order that states a Party can’t come into the marital home or that a Party must stay a certain distance away from the Other Party (that is a Protective Order). In most cases, a TRO is joint and mutual, meaning it applies to both Parties. A TRO is a good option, however it is only valid for 14 days and can be extended another 14 days.

The Parties of a case could also enter Agreed Mutual Injunctions. Agreed Mutual Injunctions are an agreement of both Parties to refrain from certain behaviors, much like Standing Orders. If your county is not listed above, contact our office to discuss the alternatives to a Standing Order. 

What happens if a Party violates a Standing Order?

If a Party fails to comply with a Standing Order, there can be serious consequences. A Standing Order is an order directly from the Judge. That means that if a Party does not comply with the Order, violations could lead to an Enforcement action. Penalties include fines, fees or even imprisonment.

Violations could also paint a Party in a poor light for the Judge. The Judge may find a Party less favorable for knowingly violating the Standing Orders. It is crucial for a Party to carefully review and understand the Standing Order issued by the Court.

Have Questions? Contact Hunt Law Firm, PLLC Today

If you have questions about the Standing Orders in your county, call one of our knowledgeable attorneys.

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