The final hearing (or trial) for your divorce case (or other family law case) is the hearing when the judge will receive the evidence about your case from the attorneys and hear the testimony of all the witnesses presented by the attorneys. The parties themselves will almost always be the chief witnesses in the final hearing for a divorce. At the end of the final hearing, the judge will usually immediately announce his/her decisions on all contested issues that were presented to him/her during the hearing.
At the end of the hearing after the judge has told everyone how the judge has ruled on the issues in the case, the judge will normally tell one of the lawyers at the hearing to draft the final decree. The lawyer will then draft the final decree incorporating the judge's decisions and get his client to review it and then get the other attorney to review it. Once both of the attorneys and both parties have agreed on the final decree and signed the final decree, then the decree will be taken to the judge to get him/her to sign it so it can be filed with the district clerk. This is usually the document that everyone has to live with because very few final divorce decrees get appealed to a higher court because of the costs involved and the low chances of winning an appeal.
Most cases do not actually require a contested final hearing because the attorneys know that it is best to settle a case before trial if a settlement is at all possible. Getting ready for a final hearing takes time. Getting witnesses ready to testify at a hearing takes time. Putting on evidence in front of a judge takes time. Attorney time costs money. I currently charge $300 an hour for my time. Most local lawyers charge at least that, and some local attorneys charge significantly more for their time.
One local lawyer was fond of saying that if there is a hearing, the lawyers always win because the lawyers will almost always get paid in advance for their time at the hearing. Most lawyers will require the client to have enough money in the trust account before a hearing to pay for the anticipated time that the final hearing will take.
Keep in mind that all attorneys are going to charge you for all of their time at the justice center (courthouse) on the day of your hearing. Your hearing may only take an hour, but the attorneys usually have to wait at the justice center until your case gets started. You will be charged for all the time spent waiting for your hearing to start. Most attorneys will use all or part of this waiting time to try to confer with you and with the other attorney to continue trying to settle all or part of the case.
There is almost always some uncertainty involved even when an experienced attorney tries to predict exactly how a judge will rule on any specific issue. It is usually best for the parties to work out an agreement amongst themselves without spending the time and money to battle it out in a courtroom.
Your case is very important to you. However, you need to realize that there are lots of other family law cases going on in Williamson County at any given time. No matter what court you are in, your attorney will be limited in how much time the judge will give him/her to put on testimony and present evidence to convince the judge that he/she should rule in your favor on any particular issue.
Most contested family matters will only get a maximum of 2-3 hours of the judge's time for a final hearing. The time in court will be evenly divided between the two attorneys. For example, if you are on the witness stand and the other lawyer spends 30 minutes cross-examining you, then that 30 minutes of time will be counted against the other lawyer's time.
Due to these time constraints, you and your attorney will be limited in how many witnesses you can put on the witness stand to convince the judge to rule in your favor.
Most family law dockets in Williamson County start at 9:00 a.m. All of the attorneys and parties and witnesses will have to be there at 9:00 a.m. and the judge will take the bench and read through the docket for that day. The court's docket is simply a list of all the cases that are set for that particular day in that particular court. Most local family law docket calls in Williamson County are pretty crowded.
When the judge calls your case, your attorney and the other attorney will stand and tell the judge how much time will be needed to dispose of that case. Both attorneys will usually agree on how much time they estimate the case will take on that day. The attorneys will be limited by how much time they told the court administrator they would need when the case was placed on the docket for that day. For example, if the court administrator was originally told this was a one hour case, the lawyers will almost certainly not be allowed to take up more than one hour of the judge's time that day without a real good reason for doing so.
On the day of the hearing, most judges will take shorter matters sooner than lengthier matters, so your attorney will want to announce for the shortest amount of time possible in order to get your case heard sooner and get you and your attorney out of court for the day.
It is important to keep in mind that most local judges will hold your attorney to the time that was announced at the docket call. In other words, if your attorney announces that one hour is needed for the hearing and the opposing attorney agrees with that time estimate, then the judge is likely to only give you one hour total of the judge's time in court, and not one minute more. The attorneys need to be experienced in putting on the most important testimony first and getting their witnesses to answer the questions with brief answers that get to the point.
It is also important to keep in mind that just because your case is on the court's docket for a specific day, that does not mean that your case is guaranteed to get reached that day by the judge. Airlines will frequently sell more tickets for passengers for a flight than the airplane could possibly hold for that flight. Airlines count on some people not showing up for the flight due to their plans changing.
Similarly, the courts understand that a lot of the cases will completely or partially settle before the day of the final hearing. However, if very few of the cases that are set for that day actually settle, then the judge has no choice but to reset some of the cases for a future date. It is rare for a local family court to stay in session past 5:00 p.m. due to not wanting to deal with scheduling problems, fatigue, and overtime for the court reporter, the bailiff, and other court staff. No judge can reasonably be expected to sit on the bench for more than six or seven hours a day.
You should also keep in mind that the other attorney could ask for a continuance on the day of the final hearing if he/she needs more time to prepare for the final hearing. If either side wants a continuance, then the judge is likely to approve the continuance unless there have been previous requests for a continuance or the judge otherwise feels that requests for delay have been abused in the past. No judge is going to refuse a continuance if the attorney or a member of the attorney's family has an unexpected health emergency that needs to be dealt with.
Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, you have to give the other side at least 45 days advance notice of a final hearing. To get your case on the court's docket, your attorney will email the court administrator for that court and tell the court administrator how much time the case should take. The court administrator will give the attorney several available possible dates for the hearing. Keep in mind that if your attorney requests 4 or more hours for the final hearing, the judge will almost certainly require that the attorneys and the parties try to mediate the case before the final hearing.
The longer the time estimate, the further away in the future the available dates for the final hearing will be. You can get one hour of the judge's time in court a whole lot faster that you can get an all-day setting.
After the court administrator gives the available dates to your attorney, the attorney will check with the client and with the other attorney to see when everyone can go to court for a final hearing. After that, the attorney will notify the court administrator to put the case on the court's docket for a particular day for the estimated amount of time. The attorney should also prepare a "Notice of Setting" to file with the district clerk and to distribute to all attorneys.
One common problem with settling a case is that some attorneys are so busy that they do not seriously work on a specific family law case until and unless it is set for a final hearing. Some attorneys will not seriously look at settling a case unless the final hearing date is just a few days away.
I will usually draft a proposed final decree of divorce and get it approved by my client and then give it to the other attorney so that he/she can review it with the other party. I will frequently get a setting for a final hearing at the same time I provide the other attorney with a proposed final decree because I have learned that the case can drag on and on and on if you don't set up a deadline for the case to get resolved. The final hearing date becomes the deadline to resolve the case.
If we all quickly agree on the details of the final decree, then we can get the divorce finalized without having to wait for the final hearing date. However, by getting a final setting, you will usually get your case resolved not later than the date of the final setting by agreement of the parties or else by having an actual hearing in front of a judge.
My goal is always to get the best resolution of the case as soon as possible for my client.