Texas Supreme Court Approves New Rules of Civil Procedure Affecting Discovery in Family Law Cases
The rules have changed for family law litigation. For divorce, child support and alimony cases filed on or after September 1, 2023, the process for discovery will be simpler than it was before. Read on to learn about what “discovery” means in the context of a divorce or other family law matter, and how the newly adopted court rules should make it easier to get the information you need to pursue your case effectively. For help with divorce, child custody, and other family law matters in Houston, contact the Law Office of Maria Lowry to discuss your needs and goals.
What Is Discovery?
Discovery is a phase of litigation that takes place between the time a petition is filed and the case is tried in court. During the discovery phase, each party has the opportunity to get evidence and information that is in the possession of the other party. This could be material that couldhelp or hurt your case; either way, you want to know what it is so you can deal with it appropriately.
Discovery also allows you to find out what evidence the other party intends to present at trial. Essentially, discovery lets you identify all the facts and issues relevant to your case so you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case as well as that of the other party. In that regard, discovery helps you prepare for trial but can also lay the groundwork for a settlement once both parties have a better handle on where they each stand. Discovery can be a real eye-opener for either party or both as they dig into the facts of the case.
What’s the Effect of the New Court Rules on Discovery in Family Court?
As of September 1, 2023, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure underwent significant amendments, particularly as regards discovery in cases governed by the Family Code. These amendments have made notable changes in how “disclosures” are handled in certain family law cases. Here are some key aspects of these new rules:
Shift from Mandatory to Request-Based Disclosures: The most significant change is the shift from mandatory initial disclosures to a request-based model. Previously, parties were required to submit detailed financial information within a specified timeframe. Under the new rules, disclosures are not automatically mandatory; instead, a party must formally request these disclosures from the other party.
Response Timeframe: When a request for initial disclosures is made, the responding party has 30 days before the close of the Discovery Period to provide their response. However, if the request for disclosures is served with the Original Petition, the response is due within 50 days. Otherwise, it’s due within 30 days from the date of the request.
Flexibility in Requesting Information: The new rules allow for greater flexibility in seeking specific information relevant to the case. This may include details such as the correct names of the parties, contact information of potential parties, legal theories and factual bases of the responding party’s claims or defenses, calculation methods for economic damages, information related to testifying experts, discoverable settlement agreements, and medical records for cases involving physical or mental injury, among other information.
Impact on Litigants: There has been some debate among family lawyers regarding the efficiency of the initial disclosure system. While some lawyers appreciated the organization and prompt provision of documentation, others argued that initial disclosures were not necessary in every family law matter and that they placed an undue burden on pro se litigants.
These changes represent a significant departure from the previous system, aimed at offering more flexibility and ensuring transparency during the legal process. It’s essential for parties involved in family law cases in Texas to understand these changes and how they may impact their case, especially in terms of the preparation and submission of necessary disclosures.
Help With Family Law Matters in Houston
If you are going through a divorce, child custody dispute, or other family law matter in Houston or Harris County, the Law Office of Maria Lowry is an excellent choice for practical advice and effective representation to guide you through the process and help ensure your needs and goals are met. Call 713-850-8859 to schedule a consultation with a skilled and experienced Houston family law attorney.