Stages of Litigation

Family Law Articles

There are six stages of litigation. 

1. Pleadings – This stage consist of filing the Petition, the Counterpetition, Answer and some other initial pleadings regarding jurisdiction and standing.

These are the initial pleadings filed by each party.  Normally one party files the initial petition and the other party then gets served a copy of the Petition, as well as a citation from the court requiring an answer.  Once properly served, a party then must file an Answer to the Petition.   At this time, it may also be necessary for the responding party to also file a Counterpetition.   Texas is a notice pleading state so none of the documents specifically state what each party wants in detail.  However, it is important that the documents plead what is necessary for trial of the case because the trial will be limited by what is in the pleadings.  Pleadings can be amended during the other stages should additional facts or causes of action arise or be discovered.

2. Temporary Orders – This is a hearing held in Divorces and Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship very early in the case to put some temporary orders in place with regard to things like:

a. who is ordered to pay each bill

b. who will continue to live in the marital residence

c. who will have possession of each car and other items of property

d. custody of the children

e. possession and access to the children

f. support of the children

g. support of a spouse

h. any injunctions needed to keep a person from doing something

i. any orders necessary to protect the safety of the parties during the litigation

Each case is different.  In some cases the parties have already worked out these details before filing.  In other cases, the attorneys are able to come to agreements with regard to these details.  In the rest of the cases, the court will hear testimony and evidence and issue Temporary Orders.

3. Discovery – Disclosures, Designation of Expert Witnesses, Depositions, Request for Production of Documents, Request for Admissions, Written Interrogatories, Subpoena Duces Tecum, Appraisals, Business Records Affidavits, Custody Evaluations and Investigations

This stage includes many different methods of gathering all the information necessary to either settle the case or prepare for trial.  Sometimes both parties know or have access to most of the information and not as much discovery is necessary.  It might be best to simply exchange information informally.  However, sometimes a party does not have knowledge or access to any of the information necessary and a lot of discovery is needed to prepare the case.  This stage can be very expensive and lengthy or quick and inexpensive, depending on the degree of cooperation and how much knowledge each party has about the issues that need to be resolved.

4. Settlement – Informal Settlement Offers, Mediation, Rule 11 Agreements

This stage begins once the parties determine that they have the necessary information to negotiate a resolution to their case.  Settlement can begin very early in a case for some cases, or may occur after a year or more of discovery for others, depending on the amount of discovery needed.  Most cases will be settled, with very few cases going on to trial.  Courts order most cases to attend mediation before a trial is permitted.  If a case settles, then the case skips trial and proceeds to the entry of final orders.  Sometimes some of the issues are settled and other issues will proceed to final trial.

5. Trial – if a case has been unable to settle then the parties prepare for and attend trial.  Trial can be the most expensive part of a case as there is a lot of work that goes into preparing for trial.  This is a time when the court will hear from the witnesses and review the documents.  After the conclusion of a trial the court will issue its ruling.  This may be said from the bench at the conclusion of the trial or may come in a written ruling at a later date.   

6. Entry of Final Orders – This is the final stage of litigation, although there is a right to appeal in some cases after final orders are entered.  This stage normally takes 1-3 months.  One of the attorneys will draft the final orders and the other attorney will review and revise the final orders.  There may even be a hearing to settle the difference between each attorney’s draft of the final orders.  Eventually, the final orders are entered and the case closes.