If I can't get to court, can I participate by telephone?
For many reasons, you may find it difficult to participate in a family court hearing. If you cannot participate in person yourself, the best option is to hire an attorney who can appear for you at the hearing. Some attorneys may agree to limited scope representation and represent you only for the court date you are going to miss. Read more about limited scope representation.
Asking for a continuance might be an option as well.
If you cannot hire an attorney, call the court that you are scheduled to appear in. Ask if you can make an appearance (that is, participate) by telephone.
Each county in Texas has different court rules about appearing by telephone. Some counties allow telephonic appearances and some do not. If a court does allow you to appear by telephone, you will likely need a very good reason to do so.
Distance from the court or having to work may not be an adequate excuse to miss your court date.
Find your court’s website and check their local rules to see if it provides information on telephonic appearances.
If you do not show up for your hearing, the judge can order a default judgment in favor of the other side. Read more about default judgments.
Warning: Sometimes the consequences for failing to appear or participate can be as severe as the court issuing a bench warrant for failure to appear. If this happens, you need a lawyer. Read How to Enforce a Visitation Order for an example of a situation in which this could happen.
You should contact the court coordinator for your judge. Ask the court coordinator if you can appear by telephone and what you need to do to set the hearing. You can likely find their information online. If you cannot, check with the county clerk to see who you will need to talk to. If at all possible you should email the court coordinator. Copy the other side in your case—and others with a right to know what's going on (like the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division if this case involves child support).
You also need to be sure to ask the court if you can appear by telephone, and document both your request and what happens with your request.
If you do not take the step of asking to appear by telephone, the court will not know about it and will not assume you are participating by telephone. It's a good idea to make your request in writing (read this San Antonio appeals court case to help you understand why your request should be in writing).
You should contact the court coordinator as soon as you know you will be unable to make your hearing. Some courts may have deadlines for requesting to appear by telephone. This could range from a number of days to weeks before your hearing. Also, you may be required to provide notice to the opposing party, which can take some time.
Maybe. Some courts may require you to file a Motion for Telephonic Hearing and an Order for Telephonic Hearing. If so, consider contacting an attorney who can assist you with this. TexasLawHelp does not have forms for telephonic appearances.
You can also try to locate a template for a motion to draft yourself at your local law library (see the Texas State Law Library's list of law libraries).
It depends. Some courts in Texas use a service called Court Call that usually charges a fee (see Tom Green County, for example). Call or email the court coordinator for your judge to find out if the court uses Court Call and what the fee will be. Here is Court Call's list of participating Texas courts.
Also, some courts are now allowing free videoconferencing. The Texas Office of Court Administration has this information about electronic court hearings.
No. The court does not have to let you participate in a hearing by telephone, although the rules guiding Texas judges give them the power to allow it. See Texas Rule of Judicial Administration 7(a)(6)(b).
A few examples of jurisdictions where judges might allow you to participate in court by telephone include:
- Bell County IV-D (child support) court (see this memo about telephonic appearances)
- Comal County (see this 2014 memo)
- Kerr County (see Rule 2.8 of its local rules)
- Travis County (see Chapter 9 of its local rules)
The above is not a complete list of all counties that allow telephonic appearances. Research your county to learn more.
Yes! A lawyer is a great resource if you are trying to appear by telephone. Lawyers in your county are likely knowledgeable about your court’s policy on telephone appearances. Also, a lawyer can assist with drafting any necessary forms to file to appear by telephone.
Generally, it is not going to be an option to do just any type of hearing by telephone. You are more likeky to be allowed to participate by telephone if it is an uncontested hearing in which you don't have to present evidence. Learn more by reading Civil Litigation in Texas: The Basics in Three Phases.
Some Texas courts are letting people appear by videoconference. The Office of Court Administration has information about that here. You should email or call the court administrator/coordinator for the court where your case is.