San Antonio family lawyers work in a unique court system dealing with civil cases, including family law cases. Unlike the criminal court system where a case gets assigned to a specific judge, all family law cases are originally set in a central court and then assigned to various judges throughout the day. This court, called the “Presiding Court,” is on the first floor of the Bexar County Courthouse. Presiding Court does not actually hear many cases itself, but simply assigns cases as other family court judges become available. So, in San Antonio, you can expect a different judge each time you go to court. San Antonio family attorneys know to be prepared for anything, but here are some answers to common questions to help you prepare for San Antonio’s unpredictable family court system.
What is Presiding Court? Why Do we have Presiding Court?
The Presiding Court assigns out cases to different judges depending on their availability and the time announcements from the lawyers. Neither party to a suit knows which judge they will be assigned to until the presiding judge sends it out to a specific judge. Time announcements may vary depending on the complexity of the case, the number of witnesses that are going to testify, and the type of setting. The Presiding Court itself changes on a monthly basis with different judges serving as the presiding judge each month. While this makes family court unpredictable in terms of which Bexar County judge will hear your case, Presiding Court makes it easier for cases to be heard efficiently. You can get into Bexar County’s family courts faster and easier than in other counties, such as Kendall County, Hays County, or Comal County, for example.
What Should I Expect in San Antonio Presiding Court?
There are two main dockets set in Bexar County’s Presiding Court every day. The first is the 8:30AM docket which deals with cases that can generally be resolved quickly like motions to enter final orders or motions for continuances where a party is asking the court to postpone and reset a hearing that is already set on the docket. The 9:00AM docket deals with the lengthier cases that can range from around one hour to all day. In general, the cases that are set on the 9:00AM docket are final hearings, evidentiary hearings, or temporary order hearings. If a case is going to a jury trial or will take multiple days, the case will be sent to another court called “Monitoring Court” to set the hearing, though this is usually done well in advance.
The Presiding Court begins by calling out the docket from the oldest cases to the newest cases. As each case is called, the parties are expected to state whether they are ready for the hearing or not ready and the time announcement. For example, a lawyer may announce “Ready, 2 hours.” If you have an attorney, let the attorney make the announcement. If one party is not ready, they will usually be sent out to a judge to hear why that party is not ready and whether to grant the not ready announcement and set it for another day or deny the not ready announcement and send it back to Presiding Court. If the case is sent back to Presiding Court, the presiding judge will send out the case to an available judge. Another option for the parties is to announce that they are “conferring.” This is a good opportunity for the parties to sit down and see if they can get an agreement done or at least narrow down the contested issues. If the parties confer and cannot come to a resolution, they go back in front of the judge and announce the estimated amount of time the hearing will take to be heard. Generally, quicker time announcements such as between 1-2 hours get sent out sooner. If you have a lengthy time announcement, it may take more time to find an available judge. Some days are busier than others and the number of judges that are available to hear cases on a particular day can all have an effect as to how quickly your case can be heard.
What Do I Do for San Antonio Family Court?
The main thing to remember for Presiding Court is to be patient and dress accordingly for court. You want the judge to have a good impression of you because they will be making the final decisions on your case. Patience will also serve you well in that depending on the factors discussed above, you could be in Presiding Court for as little as 15 minutes, or as long as the entire day. It is always a good idea to speak with your attorney before the hearing to go over the plan for the day so you know exactly what to expect. If you do not have an attorney, be sure to get to Court early and be ready to make an announcement when your case is called. The following tips for San Antonio family law clients should help:
- Arrive Early: Seating fills up quickly and so does parking. You may want to arrive downtown 30 minutes before you need to be in court.
- Be Ready to Pay for Parking: Some lots only take cash, but some only take credit cards. Parking is cheaper farther away from the Courthouse, but lots nearby charge $15-$20.
- Dress Up But Think About Comfort: You may want to bring a second set of shoes for walking or a sweater, in case the courtroom is cold.
- Take the Day Off: Court is unpredictable. You might finish early, but there’s a strong chance that you’ll wait until the afternoon. Also, Court is stressful, so you might want a chance to decompress afterwards.
- Bring a Phone Charger or Book: Reception is not great in the Courthouse, so electronic devices tend to run down quickly. Often, you may lack internet access. Be prepared to weather a wait and spotty internet.
- Avoid Bringing Children: Children are not allowed in Presiding Court and may not be allowed in the court you get referred to. Unless your lawyer specifically instructs you to bring a child, avoid bringing any children.
Hopefully, this information will help you navigate Bexar County’s Family Law Courts. If you have any suggestions to improve this article or questions, please feel free to reach out.
Marco Cepeda is the Lead Family Law Attorney for Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC. In addition to being an award-winning family lawyer, Marco is an Adjunct Professor of Legal Studies at Our Lady of the Lake University. He is a husband and father who understands the challenges of marriage and parenthood and has dedicated himself to helping clients navigate the changing family dynamics of our modern society. To set up a consultation with Marco, or any of our award-winning attorneys, call 210-222-9132 today.