Standing Orders and Temporary Restraining Orders
Oftentimes, when filing an Original Petition for Divorce or Custody case, tensions are high. At the inception of a case, the Courts are immediately interested in taking steps to preserve essentially the status quo and prohibit parties from taking certain actions that may cause significant harm to their estate, the children, or cause needless litigation and expense.
These Orders are known as “Temporary Restraining Orders” (“TRO”) and eventually become what are known as “Temporary Injunctions”. The authority for TRO’s (Temporary Restraining Orders), are found in Chapter 6 and 105 of the Texas Family Code. You can see two detailed articles on the blogs portion of the website.
A TRO, by its nature, takes effect almost immediately upon signature by the Court. According to the Family Code, a Temporary Restraining Order is expressly for the purpose of preservation of property, the protection of a party, or the protection of a child who is the subject of the case. The way a TRO works is by prohibiting or “restraining” a party from engaging a specific behavior, act, or taking certain action that is prohibited by the TRO. For example, TRO’s are used to prohibit withdrawals from bank accounts, selling or “alienating” property of which the other spouse may have an interest, incurring debt, harassing another party, or from removing a child or un-enrolling a child from school or daycare.
At the inception of a case, TRO’s are presented “ex-parte”, meaning they are presented to a court without notifying the other party and, if seeking unique or special kinds of relief, on the basis of a party affidavit. As a result, a party is often surprised to find that when they are served with the citation for the Original Petition for Divorce, a Court has already issued an Order in the case. However, don’t be alarmed and before engaging in any kind of knee-jerk reaction, talk to a competent and experienced family law attorney because this is typically routine and standard at the beginning of a case.
Standing Order Adopted March 1st, 2019 in Williamson County
Because TRO’s are routine at the inception of a case, attorneys in family law cases routinely developed a set of standard prohibitions that were always being presented to the Courts. Because they are presented ex-parte, these requests were constantly taking up valuable court time for matters that were by and large very routine and standard in the eyes of the court.
As a result, on March 1st, 2019, the Williamson County and Williamson County District Judges adopted that same standard set of restraining orders, known as the “Williamson County Standing Order” joining many other jurisdictions around the State of Texas, like Travis County, Bastrop County and Hays County.
Applies in Every Case, Whether Requested or Not
The Williamson County Standing Order is a “standing” injunctive Order that applies in every divorce case and original custody case that is filed in Travis County that relates to divorce or custody whether a party requests the order or not.
It is important to note that the Williamson County Standing Order does not apply to cases seeking to modify an existing final order.
Prior to the adoption of the Williamson County Standing Orders, attorneys were required to spend time and their client’s money obtaining this basic relief by appearing in front of the judge in the applicable Court in Williamson County. By imposing this standing order upon filling, the Judges in Williamson County that preside over family law matters saved parties significant money, time, and expense.
Williamson County Standing Orders Explained
These standing orders control many aspects of the parties’ finances, children, and property upon filing a case for Divorce and/or Custody and it is very important, if not critical, for you to read and understand their terms and carefully review them with your attorney at the inception of your case. And, for the most part, these standing orders are self-explanatory.
The first paragraph of the Williamson County Standing Orders states as follows:
“No party to this lawsuit has requested this order. Rather, this order is a standing order of the Williamson County District and County Courts that applies in every divorce suit and every original suit affecting the parent-child relationship filed in Williamson County. THIS STANDING ORDER DOES NOT APPLY TO MODIFICATIONS OF EXISTING FINAL ORDERS. The District and County Courts at Law of Williamson County have adopted this order because the parties and their children should be protected and their property preserved while the lawsuit is pending before the court.”
Standing Order Takes Effect Immediately Upon filing
Upon filing, a copy of the standing order is attached to the original petition for divorce or an original suit affecting the parent-child relationship, as applicable, and takes effect immediately unless modified by the Court (or the parties by written agreement, signed, and filed with the Court).
Paragraph 7.2, on page 4 of the standing order states as follows:
This order is effective upon the filing of the original petition and shall remain in full force and effect as a temporary restraining order for fourteen days after the date of the filing of the original petition. If no party contests this order by presenting evidence at a hearing on or before fourteen days after the date of the filing of the original petition, this order shall continue in full force and effect as a temporary injunction until further order of the court. This entire order will terminate and will no longer be effective once the court signs a final order.
Accordingly, it is important to know that the Order, as is, automatically becomes a “Temporary Injunction” after 14 days and thereafter remains in effect as a temporary order while the case is pending, unless a party files a request with the court and presents evidence why the standing order should be modified in some respect.
Provided, however, upon final judgment when your case is concluded or if the case is dismissed entirely, the standing order is no longer effective unless incorporated into the final judgment.
Effect of A Protective Order on Standing Order, Protective Order Prevails
However, in the event the court has previously entered a protective order at the time of the filing of the divorce and/or the original custody suit and the terms of the protective in some way conflicts with the terms of the standing order, section 8 provides that the terms of the protective order prevail.
Thus, upon being served with an original petition for divorce or custody that is combined with a protective order, it is very important to consult an experienced family law attorney to understand the terms of the orders.
Standing Order Sets Rules on Dealing with Spouse, Children, and Property
The standing order sets the rules with how spouses must deal with each other, their children, and their property. The standing order calls for the preservation of property, the preservation of business and personal records, and the continued maintenance of insurance coverage.
At heart, the idea is to essentially preserve the “status quo” of the parties and that of children and to provide the least amount of disruption possible, until the courts can hear the evidence, understand the circumstances of the parties and that of their children, and make a carefully determined decision based on the testimony of the parties and the circumstances.
The Williamson County Standing Order contains primarily 6 sections, related to the following:
(1) No Disruption of Children;
(2) Conduct of the Parties During the Case;
(3) Preservation of Property and Use of Funds During Divorce Case;
(4) Personal and Business Records in Divorce Case;
(5) Insurance in Divorce Case;
(6) Specific Authorizations in Divorce Case;
The most significant provisions of the standing order, are typically the following, meaning the parties are specifically prohibited from:
(1) removing any children involved in the case from the State of Texas;
(2) disrupting or withdrawing the children from the school or day-care facility where the children are presently enrolled, without the written agreement of both parents or an order of this Court;
(3) hiding or secreting the children from the other parent or changing the children’s place of abode, without the agreement of both parents or an order of this Court;
(4) Removing the children from the State of Texas, acting directly or in concert with others, without the written agreement of both parties or an order of this Court; provided, however, this paragraph shall not prohibit or restrict a party from so removing the children if an active prior court order gives that party the right to designate the primary residence of the child or children.
(5) withdrawing the child from school or day-care where the children are presently enrolled, without agreement of both parents of an order of this Court;
(6) threatening or harassing the other party;
(7) harassing the other party;
(8) incurring indebtedness, other than legal expenses in connection with this suit, except as specifically authorized by this order;
(9) destroying, removing, concealing, encumbering, transferring or otherwise harming the value of the property of one or both parties;
(10) making withdrawals from any checking or savings account in any financial institution for any purpose, except as specifically authorized by this order;
(11) concealing or destroying personal and business records; and
(12) canceling, altering, or in any manner affecting any casualty, automobile, or health insurance policies insuring the parties’ property or persons including the parties’ minor children.
However, these prohibitions contained within the Williamson County Standing Order are not absolute. This is a very common misunderstanding among parties who have just been served, believing they are absolutely prohibited from withdrawing funds or taking certain actions with their financial accounts, their children, or specifically in regard to their business or occupation.
If you are a party to a divorce matter, then you will need to go to page 3 and pay particular attention to section 6 of the Williamson County Standing Order a paragraph 6, you will see a provision styled “Specific Authorizations In Divorce Case” and there are four separate exceptions or authorizations within the order for which the parties may incur debt or otherwise, in a divorce matter for which the parties may incur debt or spend marital funds which are:
6.1 To engage in acts reasonable and necessary to the conduct of that party’s usual business and occupation;
6.2 To make expenditures and incur indebtedness for reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in connection with this suit.
6.3 To make expenditures and incur indebtedness for reasonable and necessary living expenses for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care.
6.4 To make withdraws from accounts in financial institutions only for the purposes authorized by this order.
Carefully Consult a Family Law Attorney
Actions taken in violation of the Standing Orders are potentially subject to contempt and a party can be sanctioned, potentially sentenced to county jail, and minimally required to pay attorneys fees.
Thus, while many of these provisions are self-explanatory, it is very important that you carefully review the standing order with your attorney, ask questions, and become informed.
If you have minor children and the Standing Order applies to your particular case and you are changing schools, childcare, or moving to a different residence while a case is pending you need to very carefully consult with your attorney as the Courts take these actions in particular, as they relate to children, very seriously.
Obtaining a Copy of the Williamson County Standing Order
All the issues dealt with in the Standing Order are part of the general rules and procedures for Williamson County.