So, you’ve been served with court paperwork that court is in Texas, but you are….not. This may not be surprising to you if your spouse or the other parent live in Texas, or if you left Texas just recently. Or it could come as a shock. You ask yourself: what do I do now? Fortunately there are some steps you can take to make this process easier.
Read the Paperwork
First, you need to read the paperwork and take it seriously. I’ve talked to many potential clients that simply fail to read the paperwork. There could be temporary restraining orders that you must follow (see my post on TROs). Texas orders can and do apply outside of Texas, under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Of course, if you fail to read the paperwork you can miss the deadline to “Answer” the lawsuit, you could miss court dates, and you won’t know what the other party is requesting (which might be a lot more reasonable than you expect).
Call an Attorney in Texas
After reading the paperwork, you need to call an attorney in Texas. While it is wise to seek advice from an attorney licensed in your state (or country), this is no substitute for also seeking the advice of a Texas licensed attorney.
A Texas attorney can look at your paperwork and tell you what it means, and how best to respond even if you don’t retain a Texas attorney. Texas law is unique to Texas. You should not rely on an out of state attorney for advice (and they shouldn’t give you advice unless they are licensed in Texas).
If Jurisdiction is in Dispute, Retain an Attorney in Texas Now
Even if you think the case should not have been filed in Texas, or that you should be able to file in your state, it is critical that you employ a Texas attorney and quickly. Your Texas attorney might find it suitable to file special paperwork in response to the Texas case (such as a special appearance or plea to the jurisdiction), arguing that there is no jurisdiction in Texas. If this is not done correctly or quickly, however, you could be stuck in Texas whether you like it or not.
Jurisdictional disputes (arguments over which state has legal authority to address your custody case and/or divorce) are quite complicated. Some family law attorneys shy away from taking jurisdictional disputes, so you should definitely take that as a cue to get an attorney and not go it alone.
Get an Attorney in Your State if a Local Attorney Agrees
Sometimes you will need to hire an attorney in your location to file a case there. This is typically needed if you have a good argument for jurisdiction in your state; you typically need to file there before a judge will even consider dismissing the Texas case.
It’s critical when you have cases going in two jurisdictions, to have attorneys that collaborate and take a “tag team” approach. This can lead to high attorney’s fees, at least at first, but in the long term you will likely drop the attorney in the state without jurisdiction.
Some family law attorneys shy away from representing out of state clients in Texas family law cases. Why? Because these cases often involve complex jurisdictional pitfalls. I enjoy these cases because I enjoy the legal research and writing, which is often required to sway judges in such cases, and because out-of-staters need an advocate just as much, if not more, than Texans.
If you have court in Texas but reside out of Texas you desperately need to retain a Texas attorney, and one with experience dealing with family law jurisdictional battles. I practice in many East Texas counties, including Smith, Gregg, Henderson, Rusk, Cherokee, Wood, and Upshur counties. But that doesn’t mean all my clients come from East Texas. I routinely have several out of state clients.
If you need a Texas attorney with experience handling complex jurisdictional disputes, give TLC Law a call today at (903) 871-1714.