According to Texas Lawyer magazine (July 19, 2010), Harris County family law courts are “overwhelmed and under pressure.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The Texas Lawyer article last year cites the fact that about 40 percent of all civil cases before Harris County courts are family law cases. Compared to a civil district judge, who has about 1,500 to 2,000 cases pending on the docket, Harris County family court judges may have as many as 4,000 cases pending.
In the 25 years I have practices Family Law, population in Harris County has almost doubled and yet the number of district courts that hear exclusively family law cases has increased by one, which is the protective order court (280th District Court). Although this was a welcome addition, the 280th hears only protective orders, not any of the myriad other family law matters which must be heard by the nine remaining family law courts. Compared to 25 civil district courts, there are only nine family courts that hear all family law matters.
This situation imposes an undue burden on many parties to a family law case.
Family law matters are virtually always disruptive in the personal lives of the immediate and extended family–especially children. A case protracted because of overwhelming court dockets extends the period of uncertainty for the children involved and can deepen the severity of the experience. It frequently takes more than a year get to trial, especially in cases involving complex property division or even more routine property issues. This is not the fault of the family law judges who are some of the hardest working judges in Harris County. It is simply a matter of hours in a day.
With the population in Harris County growing steadily at almost 2 percent per year, family courts are way behind schedule in bringing on new courts and new family law judges.
Harris County has no alternative other than to expand the resources available to handle family law cases. Truly, based on the statistics alone, the number should be doubled. In this time when federal, state, county, and city budgets dominate the news this seems unlikely. Nonetheless, the need is great ant the time to start is now. Even the creation of one new court hearing all family law matters would be a welcome beginning.