Texas Court Cannot Stop Divorce Trial Without Allowing Parties to Present Their Cases

judge-and-gavel-in-courtroom-171096040-583b48533df78c6f6af9f0e3-300x225While videoconferencing technology allowed certain court proceedings to occur and cases to move forward during the pandemic when in-person proceedings were not available, the technology is not without its problems in a court setting.  Some individuals, especially those living in rural areas, may not have access to a strong internet connection. Others may not have appropriate devices or know how to use the technology.  Another serious issue can be control of the courtroom, including technical issues, distractions, and disruptions by parties or non-parties. In a recent case, a wife challenged a divorce decree because judgment was rendered after the trial was stopped during the presentation of her case.

Divorce Trial Held Over Zoom – and Stopped Abruptly

The divorce case was held over Zoom without a jury.  The wife was the first witness, and the husband kept interrupting, often accusing the wife of lying.  The trial judge was unable to stop him and ultimately stopped the trial before the wife had finished presenting her case.  The trial judge stated she would grant the divorce and divide the property.

The final divorce decree was signed on January 29, 2021.  The decree granted the divorce and the wife’s name change. It also divided the assets and liabilities.  The wife moved for a new trial, arguing the trial had been stopped early.  The husband died less than two months after the decree was signed.  The wife subsequently appealed.

Wife Argued that Trial Court Erred in Stopping Trial – Appeals Court Agrees

On appeal, the wife argued stopping the trial in the middle of her case in chief without allowing her to conclude her case was reversible error.  She also challenged a provision in the decree ordering the sale of her separate property.  Additionally, she argued the property division was grossly disproportionate.

Previous case law has held that a trial judge must hold a contested evidentiary hearing or trial before dividing the estate.  Additionally, a trial judge cannot render judgment against a party before that party is given the opportunity to offer evidence and has rested.  The appeals court concluded the trial judge erred in stopping the trial before the wife had completed her case in chief or rested.  The appeals court did not address the other issues in the wife’s appeal because they would not entitle her to more appellate relief than the issue of stopping the trial.

The appeals court affirmed the portions of the decree granting the divorce based on insupportability and granting the wife’s name change.  The appeals court otherwise reversed the decree and remanded the case to the trial court.

Zoom Hearings Present New Problems – Call the Modern Divorce Attorneys at McClure Law Group Today

Although virtual proceedings became widespread during the pandemic, they may continue in some capacity indefinitely.  Proceedings held via Zoom and other technology present new challenges to the courts.  With experience, courts may develop better strategies to address those challenges.  A court may not, however, end a trial early due to disruptions by one party and render judgment without allowing the other party to present their evidence. A skilled Texas divorce attorney can help you through your divorce proceedings, whether they are held in person or over videoconferencing software.  Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group b calling our office at 214.692.8200.

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