According to an article in The Dallas Morning News, Collin County and Denton County courts recently suspended all non-essential court matters. Citing the risks associated with the novel coronavirus, Collin County and Denton County courts determined temporary closures were necessary. The suspension includes criminal and civil cases. Most pending family law matters are considered non-essential. Accordingly, many family law hearings will be postponed. Exceptions do exist. For example, family law matters involving child safety still could be heard. However, a majority of divorce hearings likely will be suspended for the immediate period.
Yet as the pandemic worsens in the U.S., the suspension likely will be extended. Three days after the announcement of court closures, Collin County Judge Chris Hill issued a disaster declaration due to COVID-19. In response to that disaster declaration, the Collin County District Clerk suspended walk-ins at the county courthouse. Denton County has also closed its doors. To be clear, Collin County and Denton County courts are operating on a limited basis. The court closures will have immediate effects for many divorcing spouses. In short, most divorces have been put on hold as a result of the pandemic.
Although contentious divorce proceedings can produce significant anxiety, that distress does not make a divorce hearing essential. Rather, Texas courts consider issues like criminal magistrate hearings and juvenile detention hearings to be essential. Some family law matters certainly fall into the essential category. For example, if a divorce case involves allegations of family violence, a hearing could proceed. Courts will find a way to move forward with petitions for temporary restraining orders tied to domestic violence. Likewise, Child Protective Services removal hearings will move forward while other family law hearings remain suspended.
However, Cain clarified, “divorce cases involving allegations of family violence will be treated differently.” To be sure, nobody should worry that court closures will prevent a court from hearing matters pertaining to family safety. Yet otherwise, new petitions for divorce will need to wait. Depending upon the length of court closures, virtual hearings are becoming a reality in Collin County, Denton County, and elsewhere in Texas.