Family Law Special Appearances

Sometimes with family law issues, such as filing for divorce or child custody matters, one party will be located out of state, while the other is located in Texas. When one party lives in Texas, but the other does not, legal matters can get pretty complicated fairly quickly. This can raise the question of whether the state of Texas has the appropriate jurisdiction, meaning the power or the right, to hear and decide the matter that is being brought before it.

What Is Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction can get tricky, because there are multiple ways to establish jurisdiction over someone, making them subject to the Texas Court’s authority. The court must have both subject matter jurisdiction over the legal matter before it in order to be able to hear and make a decision regarding the case. The court must also have personal jurisdiction over the defendant of the case.

One common way to establish personal jurisdiction over a party is if they are physically present within the state of Texas so that they can receive process of service. If you live outside of Texas, and do not want your family law issue to be brought in Texas, you would challenge the fact that Texas has no right to preside over you case, i.e., Texas lacks personal jurisdiction over you. But how can an out of state party appear in court in Texas to challenge the assertion of jurisdiction without necessarily being physically present in the state, and thus exposing him or herself to Texas jurisdiction?

Making A Special Appearance

The answer lies in requesting and making a special appearance. Out of state parties to family law matters before the Texas Family Court may challenge the state of Texas’ ability to hear the case, as lacking jurisdiction over him or her under section 120A of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. When a special appearance is successfully made, an out of state defendant is permitted to enter the state solely for the purpose of challenging personal jurisdiction, without exposing him or herself to the jurisdiction of Texas. Basically, the out of state defendant is immune from the state’s jurisdiction as he or she makes the appearance in court to challenge whether there is jurisdiction.

Successfully filing and making a special appearance can be legally complicated, and you should consult with an experienced Texas family law attorney to help you prepare and file the appropriate documents, and follow the appropriate deadlines.

Upon receiving a complaint, you as the out of state defendant must firstly file a special appearance. This filing must be the first pleading you make, and it must be made by itself. Doing anything else will serve as a forfeiture to your right to make a special appearance to challenge jurisdiction.

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