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Transferring a Family Law Case to the Referring Court

Child Support & Medical Support

If the OAG initiated your family law case or if an associate judge handles family law cases in your county, you can ask for a transfer to the referring court.

Generally, if your family law case was initiated by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) or if your county has an associate judge appointed to hear family law cases, a parent can request a transfer to the referring court. This article explains what a referring district court is and contains a motion that a parent can use to make this request and a form order that a judge can sign.

What is a referring court?

When a party files their case, or lawsuit, their case is assigned to a district court or a county court in the county. State district courts are numbered in Texas.

Additionally, when a person requests services from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the OAG opens a case, that case is assigned to a state court as a Title IV-D case.

The courts where cases are assigned are known as the referring court.

The term “referring” means that the district court or county court has referred the case to be heard by an associate judge. You can read more about associate judges below.

What is a Title IV-D case?

Title IV-D cases are those cases in which the Texas Attorney General or a county’s domestic relations office (DRO) has provided services to parents. These services can include locating an absent parent, a determination of parentage, and establishment, modification, or enforcement of a child support or medical support obligation (or both).

Title IV-D Services are governed by Chapter 231 of the Texas Family Code.

What is the Title IV-D Agency in Texas?

The Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General is the official "Title IV-D agency" in Texas. Its purpose is to help ensure that children receive the support they need and deserve. For background, read Title IV‑D and Child Sup­port in Texas.

The name “Title IV-D” comes from the Social Security Act of 1975, a federal law that requires every state to manage a public child support establishment and enforcement program. This is important because many parents do not have an attorney to help them with child support matters or know how to establish or enforce a child support court order on their own. 

Title IV-D allows the state of Texas to help families by:

What is a Title IV-D court?

The Title IV-D court is a “child support court.” The Title IV-D court hears and disposes of all the Title IV-D (i.e., child support) cases within a county or a region (usually a group of counties).

Texas created these Title IV-D courts to comply with federal requirements to resolve child support cases in an expedited process. The time frames for handling a Title IV-D case are established by Texas Family Code 201.110.

Associate judges hear these Title IV-D cases. The child support court associate judges are appointed by the presiding judges of the Texas administrative judicial regions.

What is an associate judge?

An associate judge is either a full-time or part-time judge appointed by a sitting judge of the court having jurisdiction over a lawsuit to perform duties authorized under the Texas Family Code.

Many Texas counties have associate judges appointed to preside over family law matters or child protection matters involving Child Protective Services (CPS). Some counties require that all hearings must be heard in front of the associate judge, unless a party objects to the assignment of the case to an associate judge hearing a trial on the merits (i.e., a final hearing) or presiding over a jury trial.

You should call the court administrator or coordinator in the county where your case is pending to determine if an associate judge may be presiding over your hearing.

My case is pending with a Title IV-D court or before an associate judge. What can I do to transfer it to the referring court?

You can file a motion to transfer the case to the referring court.

If all parties agree, the associate judge can sign an Agreed Referral Order. This would allow you to schedule a hearing before the referring court.

If the parties do not agree, a parent can argue their motion before the associate judge. The associate judge will rule on whether to refer the case or not.

Once an order is signed sending the case to the referring court, the associate judge will no longer hear the case. Instead, the judge of the referring court will hear the case.

A Title IV-D case can be referred to another associate judge. For example, a parent may request their case be transferred from the child support court to the family court that an associate judge presides over. In this instance, the case is going from associate judge to associate judge and not from associate judge to district or county court judge. Again, make sure you speak with the court coordinator or court administrator to understand the organization of judges and case assignments in your county.

If you already have a pending Title IV-D (i.e., child support) case, do not file a new suit affecting the parent-child relationship. Doing so will only complicate or confuse things, as two cases involving the same parents and child(ren) will be pending.

When would a parent request their case move to the referring court?

If your case has complex issues or is highly contested as to conservatorship or possession and access, you may want to consider filing a motion to have your case transferred to the referring court.

Some issues may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Family violence or protective order issues;
  • Child protection, safety, and welfare issues;
  • Alcohol or drug dependency issues;
  • Highly contested custody issues may require the appointment of an attorney ad litem, a guardian ad litem, or an amicus attorney for the child(ren), as well as requests for a child custody evaluation, a parenting facilitator or parenting coordinator, or a psychological evaluation.

A parent must have the necessary time to present their evidence in support of a position or relief they want in their case. The Title IV-D dockets can often be full, and a parent may not get the time needed for a court hearing. This is true when a case is complex or high-conflict. In this instance, a parent may consider requesting their case be moved to the referring court.

Is a request to transfer the case to the referring court the same request as a de novo review by a district court?

No. A “de novo” hearing is essentially a request for reconsideration or an appeal to the referring district court after an associate judge has already ruled in your case.

That differs from a request to transfer to the referring court, which must happen before the associate judge presides over a hearing and makes any ruling/orders in the case.

Read about a De Novo Hearing Before the Referring Court.

Related Articles

Related Forms

  • Motion to Transfer to Referring Court

    FM-POLL-100-Motion to Transfer to Referring Court

    File this motion to ask for a transfer of a family law case out of IV-D court or associate judge's court to the "referring court."
  • Order to Transfer to Referring Court

    FM-POLL-101-Order to Transfer to Referring Court

    The judge signs this order to transfer a family law case to the "referring court" from a IV-D court or an associate judge's court.