The following will apply again when the pandemic gets under control and the Courts re-open. For now, Courts are mostly using Zoom for hearings and no is appearing in person at the Courthouse.
The Tarrant County Family Law Courts are a frequent subject for internet searches. That makes perfect sense when people face the prospect of having a judge make fundamental decisions about their lives. Everyone wants to know what to expect. This post is to give a brief overview of the Tarrant County divorce courts. Each person about to go to court should consult with his or her own attorney to specifically find out about the judges who will be involved in the case.
Location The Tarrant County Family Law Courts are in the Tarrant County Family Law Center which is located at 200 E. Weatherford Street in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. There is a parking garage located in the next block east of the Courthouse and there are parking meters all around the area. Even with all that parking, there are many mornings when the parking garage fills early and it seems that all convenient parking meters are taken. The lesson to be learned: Get there early!
Entrance When you enter the Family Law Center, be prepared to go though metal detectors. It's not quite as bad as an airport, but the deputies are pretty thorough. Be prepared to take off your shoes, belts and jewelry. Guns, pocket knives and other weapons are not allowed. Briefcases, bags, purses and other items will be x-rayed. It's a hassle, but there were several shootings at the courthouse before the metal detectors were set up.
First Floor The 1st floor of the courthouse has three “IV D” (four D) courts. They are set up to collect child support and for paternity cases. Cases initiated by the Texas Attorney General are usually handled in those courts. There is also a room with vending machines next to one of the IV D court waiting rooms.
Second Floor The 2nd floor has the Domestic Relations Office. Family Court Service is on one side of the hall. They conduct social studies in custody cases and they also handle Access Facilitation matters (resolving visitation/possession issues). In addition, they supervise some visitations, manage drug testing, mediate some cases and do about anything else a judge wants them to do. On the other side of the hall is the child support office where payments can be made, child support probationers report and where a child support payment history can be obtained.
Third Floor On the 3rd floor, the District Clerk has a file desk, a closed records section and an area with clerks for each court who manage the active court files. Pleadings are filed there and the clerks are responsible to maintaining the court files. Copies of court documents can be obtained there.
Fourth Floor The 4th floor has the even-numbered courts: 322nd, 324th and 360th District Courts. Next to each of those courts is the Associate Judge's court for that court. The Associate Judges hear temporary matters, contempt or enforcement motions and a variety of other preliminary matters. They can hear final trials if both parties and the court agree. The District Court Judges normally hear final trials and some appeals from the Associate Courts, as well as some other preliminary matters.
Fifth Floor The 5th floor has the odd-numbered courts: 231st, 233rd and the 325th District Courts. Associate Judges' courts are next the the District Courts on that floor as well. In addition, on both floors, each court has a Court Coordinator for the District and Associate Courts. The Coordinator schedules matters in each court.
Conference Rooms Each court on both floors has two conference rooms right outside each courtroom and there are other conference rooms at other locations on both floors. Generally, more time is spent negotiating (and waiting) than is spent in actual court hearings, so the conference rooms are heavily used. Most matters are resolved at the courthouse through negotiations.
Bailiffs Each court also has a Bailiff who is a Deputy Sheriff. You should do whatever the Bailiff tells you to do. If/when you are in a courtroom, turn off your cell phone. The world won't come to an end if you don't answer a call, but you will be in a world of trouble if the Judge hears your cell phone ringing.
Know What to Expect This post gives you some idea about how to find your way around the Tarrant County Family Law Center in Fort Worth. If you have a case in the divorce courts, be sure to consult with your attorney before going to court. The courts begin at different times, usually at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. Your attorney can tell you when to be at court. Each of the 14 judges is different and has a slightly different perspective on cases. It is very beneficial to have an experienced lawyer who knows the personality and point of view of each of the judges. Your lawyer should be able to tell you what to expect, what to emphasize and what to avoid. Experience and preparation are really important if you have to go to court. Choose your attorney carefully and then provide all the information you can so your lawyer can be prepared.
Expect Negotiations There are normally 10-20 cases set every morning in every Associate Judge's court. There are usually multiple hearings set at the same time in the District Courts. Even when there are trial settings, there are usually multiple cases set at the same time. The reason: Courts expect the parties to negotiate and the negotiations between good attorneys usually settle all or most issues. That saves time and usually is more satisfactory to the parties.
Finally, Expect Friendly Attorneys It is normal for the attorneys for both parties to know each other and even be friends. They will probably also know the judge well. Since most cases settle by negotiation, it is natural and beneficial that the attorneys have a good working relationship. Don't be concerned if you see the attorneys talking with each other and not appearing angry or mean. A friendly, business-like approach is generally the most effective way to negotiate. That means a better result for you.