Many courts in Texas are holding essential hearings by videoconference during the COVID-19 crisis, usually using Zoom. The Office of Court Administration has put up a guide to the process that includes instructions and links to tutorials. For a list of YouTube channels that broadcast from specific Texas courts, click here.
The Texas Supreme Court has authorized courts to do this at least through September 30, 2020. Contact your court’s court coordinator or administrator to see what their procedure is. You can usually find the court coordinator’s contact information on the county’s web page. The best practice for learning this information, if it is not posted on the county's or court's web site, is to email the court coordinator.
You can ask the other side if they agree to reschedule the case, and ask the court coordinator by email if this is an option. You will need to Cc: the other side (such as the other parent) and other interested parties (such as the Office of the Attorney General if this is a child support case). Some courts have already rescheduled hearings, so if you are not sure, contact the court coordinator.
Or you might try to get a continuance. A continuance changes the date of a court hearing or trial to a later date. You can ask a judge for a continuance by filing a motion for continuance. Read How to Ask for a Continuance.
Consider the videoconference to be a courtroom. It is not meant to be more casual than a physical courtroom.
Dress neatly. Do not wear printed t-shirts, tank tops, or hats. Dress like you are going to a job interview. If at all possible, a caregiver should help keep your child occupied. See Tips for the Courtroom. This is particularly important for cases that involve the parent-child relationship. It is not considered in the best interest of a child to be exposed to courtroom conflict between parents.
Contact the court coordinator. If you have a court date, they likely will be sending you an email invitation.
It is better to wait for an email from the court rather than trying to start your own Zoom session, because Texas judges have access to professional versions of Zoom that let them control the proceeding (for example, controlling who can talk and when) almost as if it were really in a courthouse.
Check with your court first. One way it is being done: Email your exhibit to the court coordinator. They can handle it so that the judge, court reporter, and the other side can see your exhibits at the right time during your hearing.
Some courts may have strict deadlines for sending in documents. You should ask the court coordinator and a lawyer who practices in that jurisdiction to learn how that court is handling this.
You should practice using Zoom before court if at all possible. Watching court hearings beforehand. A list of courts' YouTube broadcasts is here.
Some other tips from the Office of Court Administration:
- Wear a solid color (like a black robe for judges), not a pattern.
- When speaking, look directly at the camera, not at the screen.
- Position the camera at your eye level or slightly above eye level.
- Be mindful of what is behind you, choose a solid neutral wall if you can.
- Check the lighting.
- Light from a window behind you might blind the camera, making you look dark.
- Light above you in the center of a room might cast shadows.
- Ideally, put a lamp, or sit facing a window, where light is directly on your face.
- Also be aware that your screen may cast light that can make you look blue.
- Speak one at a time and to pause prior to speaking in case there is any audio/video lag.
- Encourage the participants to mute themselves when not speaking in order to avoid any potential background noise.
- Test your connection and setup with Zoom by testing your connection with a test meeting.
You may need to file a motion for use of emergency procedures.
- Asking to Appear in Court by Video App or Phone During COVID-19 (Divorce Without Children)
- Asking to Appear in Court by Video App or Phone During COVID-19 (Divorce With Children)
- Asking to Appear in Court by Video App or Phone During COVID-19 (SAPCR and Modification)