C. Judicial Resources and Services

Subtitle C. Judicial Resources and Services

Ch. 201. Associate Judge

Subch. A. Associate Judge

201.001. Appointment

201.002. Qualifications

201.003. Compensation

201.004. Termination of Associate Judge

201.005. Cases That May Be Referred

201.006. Order of Referral

201.007. Powers of Associate Judge

201.008. Attendance of Bailiff

201.009. Court Reporter; Record

201.010. Witness

201.011. Report

201.012. Notice of Right to De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court

201.013. Order of Court

201.014. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment

201.015. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court

201.016. Appellate Review

201.017. Immunity

201.018. Visiting Associate Judge

Subch. B. Associate Judge for Title IV–D Cases

201.101. Authority of Presiding Judge

201.102. Application of Law Governing Associate Judges

201.1021. Qualifications

201.103. Designation of Host County

201.104. Powers of Associate Judge

201.1041. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment

201.1042. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court

201.105. Compensation of Associate Judge

201.106. Child Support Court Monitor and Other Personnel

201.1065. Duties of Child Support Court Monitor

201.1066. Supervision of Associate Judges

201.107. State and Federal Funds

201.110. Time for Disposition of Title IV–D Cases

201.111. Time to Act on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment That Includes Recommended Finding of Contempt

201.112. Limitation on Law Practice by Certain Associate Judges

201.113. Visiting Associate Judge

Subch. C. Associate Judge for Child Protection Cases

201.201. Authority of Presiding Judge

201.202. Application of Law Governing Associate Judges

201.2021. Qualifications

201.203. Designation of Host County

201.204. General Powers of Associate Judge

201.2041. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment

201.2042. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court

201.205. Compensation of Associate Judge

201.206. Personnel

201.2061. Supervision of Associate Judges

201.207. State and Federal Funds; Personnel

201.208. Assignment of Judges and Appointment of Visiting Associate Judges

201.209. Limitation on Law Practice by Associate Judge

Subch. D. Associate Judge for Juvenile Matters

201.301. Applicability

201.302. Appointment

201.303. Qualifications

201.304. Compensation

201.305. Termination

201.306. Cases That May Be Referred

201.307. Methods of Referral

201.308. Powers of Associate Judge

201.309. Referees

201.310. Attendance of Bailiff

201.311. Witness

201.312. Court Reporter; Record

201.313. Report

201.314. Notice of Right to De Novo Hearing; Waiver

201.315. Order of Court

201.316. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment

201.317. De Novo Hearing

201.318. Appellate Review

201.319. Judicial Immunity

201.320. Visiting Associate Judge

Ch. 202. Friend of the Court

202.001. Appointment

202.002. Authority and Duties

202.003. Duty of Local Offices and Officials to Report

202.004. Access to Information

202.005. Compensation

Ch. 203. Domestic Relations Offices

203.001. Definitions

203.002. Establishment of Domestic Relations Office

203.003. Administration

203.004. Powers and Duties

203.005. Fees and Charges

203.006. Fund

203.007. Access to Records; Offense

Ch. 204. Child Support Collection by Private Entity

204.001. Applicability

204.002. Authority to Contract

204.003. Terms and Conditions of Contract

204.004. Funding

204.005. Cumulative Effect of Chapter

Subtitle C. Judicial Resources and Services

Ch. 201. Associate Judge

Subch. A. Associate Judge

Sec. 201.001. Appointment.

(a) A judge of a court having jurisdiction of a suit under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4 may appoint a full–time or part–time associate judge to perform the duties authorized by this chapter if the commissioners court of a county in which the court has jurisdiction authorizes the employment of an associate judge.

(b) If a court has jurisdiction in more than one county, an associate judge appointed by that court may serve only in a county in which the commissioners court has authorized the associate judge's appointment.

(c) If more than one court in a county has jurisdiction of a suit under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4 the commissioners court may authorize the appointment of an associate judge for each court or may authorize one or more associate judges to share service with two or more courts.

(d) If an associate judge serves more than one court, the associate judge's appointment must be made with the unanimous approval of all the judges under whom the associate judge serves.

(e) This section does not apply to an associate judge appointed under Subchapter B or C.

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Sec. 201.002. Qualifications.

(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), to be eligible for appointment as an associate judge, a person must meet the requirements and qualifications to serve as a judge of the court or courts for which the associate judge is appointed.

(b) To be eligible for appointment as an associate judge under Subchapter B or C, a person must meet the requirements and qualifications established under those subchapters.

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Sec. 201.003. Compensation.

(a) An associate judge shall be paid a salary determined by the commissioners court of the county in which the associate judge serves.

(b) If an associate judge serves in more than one county, the associate judge shall be paid a salary as determined by agreement of the commissioners courts of the counties in which the associate judge serves.

(c) The associate judge's salary is paid from the county fund available for payment of officers' salaries.

(d) This section does not apply to an associate judge appointed under Subchapter B or C.

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Sec. 201.004. Termination of Associate Judge.

(a) An associate judge who serves a single court serves at the will of the judge of that court.

(b) The employment of an associate judge who serves more than two courts may only be terminated by a majority vote of all the judges of the courts which the associate judge serves.

(c) The employment of an associate judge who serves two courts may be terminated by either of the judges of the courts which the associate judge serves.

(d) This section does not apply to an associate judge appointed under Subchapter B or C.

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Sec. 201.005. Cases that May Be Referred.

(a) Except as provided by this section, a judge of a court may refer to an associate judge any aspect of a suit over which the court has jurisdiction under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4, including any matter ancillary to the suit.

(b) Unless a party files a written objection to the associate judge hearing a trial on the merits, the judge may refer the trial to the associate judge. A trial on the merits is any final adjudication from which an appeal may be taken to a court of appeals.

(c) A party must file an objection to an associate judge hearing a trial on the merits or presiding at a jury trial not later than the 10th day after the date the party receives notice that the associate judge will hear the trial. If an objection is filed, the referring court shall hear the trial on the merits or preside at a jury trial.

(d) The requirements of Subsections (b) and (c) shall apply whenever a judge has authority to refer the trial of a suit under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4 to an associate judge, master, or other assistant judge regardless of whether the assistant judge is appointed under this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.006. Order of Referral.

(a) In referring a case to an associate judge, the judge of the referring court shall render:

(1) an individual order of referral; or

(2) a general order of referral specifying the class and type of cases to be heard by the associate judge.

(b) The order of referral may limit the power or duties of an associate judge.

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Sec. 201.007. Powers of Associate Judge.

(a) Except as limited by an order of referral, an associate judge may:

(1) conduct a hearing;

(2) hear evidence;

(3) compel production of relevant evidence;

(4) rule on the admissibility of evidence;

(5) issue a summons for:

(A) the appearance of witnesses; and

(B) the appearance of a parent who has failed to appear before an agency authorized to conduct an investigation of an allegation of abuse or neglect of a child after receiving proper notice;

(6) examine a witness;

(7) swear a witness for a hearing;

(8) make findings of fact on evidence;

(9) formulate conclusions of law;

(10) recommend an order to be rendered in a case;

(11) regulate all proceedings in a hearing before the associate judge;

(12) order the attachment of a witness or party who fails to obey a subpoena;

(13) order the detention of a witness or party found guilty of contempt, pending approval by the referring court as provided by Section 201.013;

(14) without prejudice to the right of appeal under Section 201.015, render and sign:

(A) a final order agreed to in writing as to both form and substance by all parties;

(B) a final default order;

(C) a temporary order; or

(D) a final order in a case in which a party files an unrevoked waiver made in accordance with Rule 119, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, that waives notice to the party of the final hearing or waives the party's appearance at the final hearing;

(15) take action as necessary and proper for the efficient performance of the associate judge's duties; and

(16) sign a final order that includes a waiver of the right of appeal pursuant to Section 201.015.

(b) An associate judge may, in the interest of justice, refer a case back to the referring court regardless of whether a timely objection to the associate judge hearing the trial on the merits or presiding at a jury trial has been made by any party.

(c) An order described by Subsection (a)(14) that is rendered and signed by an associate judge constitutes an order of the referring court.

(d) An answer filed by or on behalf of a party who previously filed a waiver described in Subsection (a)(14)(D) shall revoke that waiver.

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Sec. 201.008. Attendance of Bailiff. A bailiff may attend a hearing by an associate judge if directed by the referring court.

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Sec. 201.009. Court Reporter; Record.

(a) A court reporter may be provided during a hearing held by an associate judge appointed under this chapter. A court reporter is required to be provided when the associate judge presides over a jury trial or a contested final termination hearing.

(b) A party, the associate judge, or the referring court may provide for a reporter during the hearing, if one is not otherwise provided.

(c) Except as provided by Subsection (a), in the absence of a court reporter or on agreement of the parties, the record may be preserved by any means approved by the associate judge.

(d) The referring court or associate judge may tax the expense of preserving the record under Subsection (c) as costs.

(e) On a request for a de novo hearing, the referring court may consider testimony or other evidence in the record in addition to witnesses or other matters presented under Section 201.015.

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Sec. 201.010. Witness.

(a) A witness appearing before an associate judge is subject to the penalties for perjury provided by law.

(b) A referring court may fine or imprison a witness who:

(1) failed to appear before an associate judge after being summoned; or

(2) improperly refused to answer questions if the refusal has been certified to the court by the associate judge.

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Sec. 201.011. Report.

(a) The associate judge's report may contain the associate judge's findings, conclusions, or recommendations and may be in the form of a proposed order. The associate judge's report must be in writing in the form directed by the referring court.

(b) After a hearing, the associate judge shall provide the parties participating in the hearing notice of the substance of the associate judge's report, including any proposed order.

(c) Notice may be given to the parties:

(1) in open court, by an oral statement or a copy of the associate judge's written report, including any proposed order;

(2) by certified mail, return receipt requested; or

(3) by facsimile transmission.

(d) There is a rebuttable presumption that notice is received on the date stated on:

(1) the signed return receipt, if notice was provided by certified mail; or

(2) the confirmation page produced by the facsimile machine, if notice was provided by facsimile transmission.

(e) After a hearing conducted by an associate judge, the associate judge shall send the associate judge's signed and dated report, including any proposed order, and all other papers relating to the case to the referring court.

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Sec. 201.012. Notice of Right to De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court.

(a) Notice of the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court shall be given to all parties.

(b) The notice may be given:

(1) by oral statement in open court;

(2) by posting inside or outside the courtroom of the referring court; or

(3) as otherwise directed by the referring court.

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Sec. 201.013. Order of Court.

(a) Pending a de novo hearing before the referring court, a proposed order or judgment of the associate judge is in full force and effect and is enforceable as an order or judgment of the referring court, except for an order providing for the appointment of a receiver.

(b) Except as provided by Section 201.007(c), if a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is not timely filed or the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court is waived, the proposed order or judgment of the associate judge becomes the order or judgment of the referring court only on the referring court's signing the proposed order or judgment.

(c) An order by an associate judge for the temporary detention or incarceration of a witness or party shall be presented to the referring court on the day the witness or party is detained or incarcerated. The referring court, without prejudice to the right to a de novo hearing provided by Section 201.015, may approve the temporary detention or incarceration or may order the release of the party or witness, with or without bond, pending a de novo hearing. If the referring court is not immediately available, the associate judge may order the release of the party or witness, with or without bond, pending a de novo hearing or may continue the person's detention or incarceration for not more than 72 hours.

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Sec. 201.014. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment.

(a) Unless a party files a written request for a de novo hearing before the referring court, the referring court may:

(1) adopt, modify, or reject the associate judge's proposed order or judgment;

(2) hear further evidence; or

(3) recommit the matter to the associate judge for further proceedings.

(b) Regardless of whether a party files a written request for a de novo hearing before the referring court, a proposed order or judgment rendered by an associate judge in a suit filed by the Department of Family and Protective Services that meets the requirements of Section 263.401(d) is considered a final order for purposes of Section 263.401.

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Sec. 201.015. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court.

(a) A party may request a de novo hearing before the referring court by filing with the clerk of the referring court a written request not later than the third working day after the date the party receives notice of:

(1) the substance of the associate judge's report as provided by Section 201.011; or

(2) the rendering of the temporary order, if the request concerns a temporary order rendered by an associate judge under Section 201.007(a)(14)(C).

(b) A request for a de novo hearing under this section must specify the issues that will be presented to the referring court.

(c) In the de novo hearing before the referring court, the parties may present witnesses on the issues specified in the request for hearing. The referring court may also consider the record from the hearing before the associate judge, including the charge to and verdict returned by a jury.

(d) Notice of a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court shall be given to the opposing attorney under Rule 21a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

(e) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is filed by a party, any other party may file a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court not later than the third working day after the date the initial request was filed.

(f) The referring court, after notice to the parties, shall hold a de novo hearing not later than the 30th day after the date on which the initial request for a de novo hearing was filed with the clerk of the referring court.

(g) Before the start of a hearing by an associate judge, the parties may waive the right of a de novo hearing before the referring court in writing or on the record.

(h) The denial of relief to a party after a de novo hearing under this section or a party's waiver of the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court does not affect the right of a party to file a motion for new trial, motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or other post–trial motion.

(i) A party may not demand a second jury in a de novo hearing before the referring court if the associate judge's proposed order or judgment resulted from a jury trial.

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Sec. 201.016. Appellate Review.

(a) A party's failure to request a de novo hearing before the referring court or a party's waiver of the right to request a de novo hearing before the referring court does not deprive the party of the right to appeal to or request other relief from a court of appeals or the supreme court.

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), the date an order or judgment by the referring court is signed is the controlling date for the purposes of appeal to or request for other relief from a court of appeals or the supreme court.

(c) The date an agreed order or a default order is signed by an associate judge is the controlling date for the purpose of an appeal to, or a request for other relief relating to the order from, a court of appeals or the supreme court.

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Sec. 201.017. Immunity. An associate judge appointed under this subchapter has the judicial immunity of a district judge. All existing immunity granted an associate judge by law, express or implied, continues in full force and effect.

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Sec. 201.018. Visiting Associate Judge.

(a) If an associate judge appointed under this subchapter is temporarily unable to perform the judge's official duties because of absence or illness, injury, or other disability, a judge of a court having jurisdiction of a suit under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4 may appoint a visiting associate judge to perform the duties of the associate judge during the period of the associate judge's absence or disability if the commissioners court of a county in which the court has jurisdiction authorizes the employment of a visiting associate judge.

(b) To be eligible for appointment under this section, a person must have served as an associate judge for at least two years.

(c) Sections 201.001 through 201.017 apply to a visiting associate judge appointed under this section.

(d) This section does not apply to an associate judge appointed under Subchapter B.

Subch. B. Associate Judge for Title IV–D Cases

Sec. 201.101. Authority of Presiding Judge.

(a) The presiding judge of each administrative judicial region, after conferring with the judges of courts in the region having jurisdiction of Title IV–D cases, shall determine which courts require the appointment of a full–time or part–time associate judge to complete each Title IV–D case within the time specified in this subchapter.

(b) If the presiding judge of an administrative judicial region determines under Subsection (a) that the courts in the region require the appointment of an associate judge, the presiding judge shall appoint an associate judge from a list of the qualified applicants who have submitted an application to the office of court administration. Before making the appointment, the presiding judge must provide the list to the judges of the courts from which cases will be referred to the associate judge. Each judge may recommend to the presiding judge the names of one or more applicants for appointment. An associate judge appointed under this subsection serves for a term of four years from the date the associate judge is appointed and qualifies for office. The appointment of an associate judge for a term does not affect the at–will employment status of the associate judge. The presiding judge may terminate an appointment at any time.

(b–1) Before reappointing an associate judge appointed under Subsection (b), the presiding judge must notify each judge of the courts from which cases will be referred to the associate judge of the presiding judge's intent to reappoint the associate judge to another term. Each judge may submit to the presiding judge a recommendation on whether the associate judge should be reappointed.

(c) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter may be appointed to serve more than one court. Two or more judges of administrative judicial regions may jointly appoint one or more associate judges to serve the regions.

(d) Except as provided under Subsection (e), if an associate judge is appointed for a court under this subchapter, all Title IV–D cases shall be referred to the associate judge by a general order for each county issued by the judge of the court for which the associate judge is appointed, or, in the absence of that order, by a general order issued by the presiding judge who appointed the associate judge. Referral of Title IV–D cases may not be made for individual cases or case by case.

(e) If a county has entered into a contract with the Title IV–D agency under Section 231.0011, enforcement services may be directly provided in cases identified under the contract by county personnel as provided under Section 231.0011(d), including judges and associate judges of the courts of the county.

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Sec. 201.102. Application of Law Governing Associate Judges. Subchapter A applies to an associate judge appointed under this subchapter, except that, to the extent of any conflict between this subchapter and Subchapter A, this subchapter prevails.

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Sec. 201.1021. Qualifications.

(a) To be eligible for appointment under this subchapter, a person must be a citizen of the United States, have resided in this state for the two years preceding the date of appointment, and be:

(1) eligible for assignment under Section 74.054, Government Code, because the person is named on the list of retired and former judges maintained by the presiding judge of the administrative region under Section 74.055, Government Code; or

(2) licensed to practice law in this state and have been a practicing lawyer in this state, or a judge of a court in this state who is not otherwise eligible under Subdivision (1), for the four years preceding the date of appointment.

(b) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter shall during the term of appointment reside in the administrative judicial region, or a county adjacent to the region, in which the court to which the associate judge is appointed is located. An associate judge appointed to serve in two or more administrative judicial regions may reside anywhere in the regions.

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Sec. 201.103. Designation of Host County.

(a) The presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions by majority vote shall determine the host county of an associate judge appointed under this subchapter.

(b) The host county shall provide an adequate courtroom and quarters, including furniture, necessary utilities, and telephone equipment and service, for the associate judge and other personnel assisting the associate judge.

(c) An associate judge is not required to reside in the host county.

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Sec. 201.104. Powers of Associate Judge.

(a) On the motion of a party or the associate judge, an associate judge may refer a complex case back to the judge for final disposition after the associate judge has recommended temporary support.

(b) An associate judge may render and sign any order that is not a final order on the merits of the case.

(c) An associate judge may recommend to the referring court any order after a trial on the merits.

(d) Only the referring court may hear and render an order on a motion for postjudgment relief, including a motion for a new trial or to vacate, correct, or reform a judgment.

(e) Notwithstanding Subsection (d) and subject to Section 201.1042(g), an associate judge may hear and render an order on:

(1) a suit to modify or clarify an existing child support order;

(2) a motion to enforce a child support order or revoke a respondent's community supervision and suspension of commitment;

(3) a respondent's compliance with the conditions provided in the associate judge's report for suspension of the respondent's commitment; or

(4) a motion for postjudgment relief, including a motion for a new trial or to vacate, correct, or reform a judgment, if neither party has requested a de novo hearing before the referring court.

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Sec. 201.1041. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment.

(a) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is not timely filed or the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court is waived, the proposed order or judgment of the associate judge, other than a proposed order or judgment providing for enforcement by contempt or the immediate incarceration of a party, shall become the order or judgment of the referring court by operation of law without ratification by the referring court.

(b) An associate judge's proposed order or judgment providing for enforcement by contempt or the immediate incarceration of a party becomes an order of the referring court only if:

(1) the referring court signs an order adopting the associate judge's proposed order or judgment; and

(2) the order or judgment meets the requirements of Section 157.166.

(c) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a proposed order or judgment of the associate judge is in full force and effect and is enforceable as an order or judgment of the referring court pending a de novo hearing before the referring court.

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Sec. 201.1042. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court.

(a) Except as provided by this section, Section 201.015 applies to a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court.

(b) The party requesting a de novo hearing before the referring court shall file notice with the clerk of the referring court not later than the third working day after the date the associate judge signs the proposed order or judgment.

(c) A respondent who timely files a request for a de novo hearing on an associate judge's proposed order or judgment providing for incarceration shall be brought before the referring court not later than the first working day after the date on which the respondent files the request for a de novo hearing. The referring court shall determine whether the respondent should be released on bond or whether the respondent's appearance in court at a designated time and place can be otherwise assured.

(d) If the respondent under Subsection (c) is released on bond or other security, the referring court shall condition the bond or other security on the respondent's promise to appear in court for a de novo hearing at a designated date, time, and place, and the referring court shall give the respondent notice of the hearing in open court. No other notice to the respondent is required.

(e) If the respondent under Subsection (c) is released without posting bond or security, the court shall set a de novo hearing at a designated date, time, and place and give the respondent notice of the hearing in open court. No other notice to the respondent is required.

(f) If the referring court is not satisfied that the respondent's appearance in court can be assured and the respondent remains incarcerated, a de novo hearing shall be held as soon as practicable, but not later than the fifth day after the date the respondent's request for a de novo hearing before the referring court was filed, unless the respondent or, if represented, the respondent's attorney waives the accelerated hearing.

(g) Until a de novo hearing is held under this section and the referring court has signed an order or judgment or has ruled on a timely filed motion for new trial or a motion to vacate, correct, or reform a judgment, an associate judge may not hold a hearing on the respondent's compliance with conditions in the associate judge's proposed order or judgment for suspension of commitment or on a motion to revoke the respondent's community supervision and suspension of commitment.

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Sec. 201.105. Compensation of Associate Judge.

(a) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter is entitled to a salary to be determined by a majority vote of the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions. The salary may not exceed 90 percent of the salary paid to a district judge as set by the General Appropriations Act.

(b) The associate judge's salary shall be paid from county funds available for payment of officers' salaries or from funds available from the state and federal government as provided by this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.106. Child Support Court Monitor and Other Personnel.

(a) The presiding judge of an administrative judicial region or the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions, by majority vote, may appoint other personnel, including a child support court monitor for each associate judge appointed under this subchapter, as needed to implement and administer the provisions of this subchapter.

(b) The salaries of the personnel and court monitors shall be paid from county funds available for payment of officers' salaries or from funds available from the state and federal government as provided by this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.1065. Duties of Child Support Court Monitor.

(a) A child support court monitor appointed under this subchapter shall monitor child support cases in which the obligor is placed on probation for failure to comply with the requirements of a child support order.

(b) In monitoring a child support case, a court monitor shall:

(1) conduct an intake assessment of the needs of an obligor that, if addressed, would enable the obligor to comply with a child support order;

(2) refer an obligor to employment services offered by the employment assistance program under Section 302.0035, Labor Code, if appropriate;

(3) provide mediation services or referrals to services, if appropriate;

(4) schedule periodic contacts with an obligor to assess compliance with the child support order and whether additional support services are required;

(5) monitor the amount and timeliness of child support payments owed and paid by an obligor; and

(6) if appropriate, recommend that the court:

(A) discharge an obligor from or modify the terms of the obligor's community supervision; or

(B) revoke an obligor's community supervision.

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Sec. 201.1066. Supervision of Associate Judges.

(a) The office of court administration shall assist the presiding judges in:

(1) monitoring the associate judges' compliance with job performance standards and federal and state laws and policies;

(2) addressing the training needs and resource requirements of the associate judges;

(3) conducting annual performance evaluations for the associate judges and other personnel appointed under this subchapter based on written personnel performance standards adopted by the presiding judges and performance information solicited from the referring courts and other relevant persons; and

(4) receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints about particular associate judges or the associate judge program under this subchapter based on a uniform process adopted by the presiding judges.

(b) The office of court administration shall develop procedures and a written evaluation form to be used by the presiding judges in conducting the annual performance evaluations under Subsection (a)(3).

(c) Each judge of a court that refers cases to an associate judge under this subchapter may submit to the presiding judge or the office of court administration information on the associate judge's performance during the preceding year based on a uniform process adopted by the presiding judges.

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Sec. 201.107. State and Federal Funds.

(a) The office of court administration may contract with the Title IV–D agency for available state and federal funds under Title IV–D and may employ personnel needed to implement and administer this subchapter. An associate judge, a court monitor for each associate judge, and other personnel appointed under this subchapter are state employees for all purposes, including accrual of leave time, insurance benefits, retirement benefits, and travel regulations.

(b) The presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions, state agencies, and counties may contract with the Title IV–D agency for available federal funds under Title IV–D to reimburse costs and salaries associated with associate judges, court monitors, and personnel appointed under this subchapter and may also use available state funds and public or private grants.

(c) The presiding judges and the Title IV–D agency shall act and are authorized to take any action necessary to maximize the amount of federal funds available under the Title IV–D program.

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Sec. 201.110. Time for Disposition of Title IV–D Cases.

(a) Title IV–D cases must be completed from the time of successful service to the time of disposition within the following time:

(1) 75 percent within six months; and

(2) 90 percent within one year.

(b) Title IV–D cases shall be given priority over other cases.

(c) A clerk or judge may not restrict the number of Title IV–D cases that are filed or heard in the courts.

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Sec. 201.111. Time to Act on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment that Includes Recommended Finding of Contempt.

(a) Not later than the 10th day after the date an associate judge's proposed order or judgment recommending a finding of contempt is signed, the referring court shall:

(1) adopt, modify, or reject the proposed order or judgment;

(2) hear further evidence; or

(3) recommit the matter for further proceedings.

(b) The time limit in Subsection (a) does not apply if a party has filed a written request for a de novo hearing before the referring court.

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Sec. 201.112. Limitation on Law Practice by Certain Associate Judges. A full–time associate judge appointed under this subchapter may not engage in the private practice of law.

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Sec. 201.113. Visiting Associate Judge.

(a) If an associate judge appointed under this subchapter is temporarily unable to perform the associate judge's official duties because of absence resulting from family circumstances, illness, injury, disability, or military service, or if there is a vacancy in the position of associate judge, the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region in which the associate judge serves or the vacancy occurs may appoint a visiting associate judge for Title IV–D cases to perform the duties of the associate judge during the period the associate judge is unable to perform the associate judge's duties or until another associate judge is appointed to fill the vacancy.

(b) A person is not eligible for appointment under this section unless the person has served as a master or associate judge under this chapter, a district judge, or a statutory county court judge for at least two years before the date of appointment.

(c) A visiting associate judge appointed under this section is subject to each provision of this chapter that applies to an associate judge serving under a regular appointment under this subchapter. A visiting associate judge appointed under this section is entitled to compensation to be determined by a majority vote of the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions through use of funds under this subchapter. A visiting associate judge is not considered to be a state employee for any purpose.

(d) Section 2252.901, Government Code, does not apply to the appointment of a visiting associate judge under this section.

Subch. C. Associate Judge for Child Protection Cases

Sec. 201.201. Authority of Presiding Judge.

(a) The presiding judge of each administrative judicial region, after conferring with the judges of courts in the region having family law jurisdiction and a child protection caseload, shall determine which courts require the appointment of a full–time or part–time associate judge to complete cases under Subtitle E within the times specified under that subtitle.

(b) If the presiding judge of an administrative judicial region determines under Subsection (a) that the courts in the region require the appointment of an associate judge, the presiding judge shall appoint an associate judge from a list of the qualified applicants who have submitted an application to the office of court administration. Before making the appointment, the presiding judge must provide the list to the judges of the courts from which cases will be referred to the associate judge. Each judge may recommend to the presiding judge the names of one or more applicants for appointment. An associate judge appointed under this subsection serves for a term of four years from the date the associate judge is appointed and qualifies for office. The appointment of an associate judge for a term does not affect the at–will employment status of the associate judge. The presiding judge may terminate an appointment at any time.

(b–1) Before reappointing an associate judge appointed under Subsection (b), the presiding judge must notify each judge of the courts from which cases will be referred to the associate judge of the presiding judge's intent to reappoint the associate judge to another term. Each judge may submit to the presiding judge a recommendation on whether the associate judge should be reappointed.

(c) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter may be appointed to serve more than one court. Two or more judges of administrative judicial regions may jointly appoint one or more associate judges to serve the regions.

(d) If an associate judge is appointed for a court, all child protection cases shall be referred to the associate judge by a general order for each county issued by the judge of the court for which the associate judge is appointed or, in the absence of that order, by a general order issued by the presiding judge who appointed the associate judge.

(e) This section does not limit the jurisdiction of a court to issue orders under Subtitle E.

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Sec. 201.202. Application of Law Governing Associate Judges. Except as provided by this subchapter, Subchapter A applies to an associate judge appointed under this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.2021. Qualifications.

(a) To be eligible for appointment under this subchapter, a person must be a citizen of the United States, have resided in this state for the two years preceding the date of appointment, and be:

(1) eligible for assignment under Section 74.054, Government Code, because the person is named on the list of retired and former judges maintained by the presiding judge of the administrative region under Section 74.055, Government Code; or

(2) licensed to practice law in this state and have been a practicing lawyer in this state, or a judge of a court in this state who is not otherwise eligible under Subdivision (1), for the four years preceding the date of appointment.

(b) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter shall during the term of appointment reside in the administrative judicial region, or a county adjacent to the region, in which the court to which the associate judge is appointed is located. An associate judge appointed to serve in two or more administrative judicial regions may reside anywhere in the regions.

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Sec. 201.203. Designation of Host County.

(a) Subject to the approval of the commissioners court of the proposed host county, the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions by majority vote shall determine the host county of an associate judge appointed under this subchapter.

(b) The host county shall provide an adequate courtroom and quarters, including furniture, necessary utilities, and telephone equipment and service, for the associate judge and other personnel assisting the associate judge.

(c) An associate judge is not required to reside in the host county.

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Sec. 201.204. General Powers of Associate Judge.

(a) On the motion of a party or the associate judge, an associate judge may refer a complex case back to the referring court for final disposition after recommending temporary orders for the protection of a child.

(b) An associate judge may render and sign any pretrial order.

(c) An associate judge may recommend to the referring court any order after a trial on the merits.

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Sec. 201.2041. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment.

(a) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is not timely filed or the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court is waived, the proposed order or judgment of the associate judge becomes the order or judgment of the referring court by operation of law without ratification by the referring court.

(b) Regardless of whether a de novo hearing is requested before the referring court, a proposed order or judgment rendered by an associate judge that meets the requirements of Section 263.401(d) is considered a final order for purposes of Section 263.401.

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Sec. 201.2042. De Novo Hearing Before Referring Court.

(a) Except as provided by this section, Section 201.015 applies to a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court.

(b) The party requesting a de novo hearing before the referring court shall file notice with the referring court and the clerk of the referring court.

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Sec. 201.205. Compensation of Associate Judge.

(a) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter is entitled to a salary as determined by a majority vote of the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions. The salary may not exceed 90 percent of the salary paid to a district judge as set by the state General Appropriations Act.

(b) The associate judge's salary shall be paid from county funds available for payment of officers' salaries subject to the approval of the commissioners court or from funds available from the state and federal governments as provided by this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.206. Personnel.

(a) The presiding judge of an administrative judicial region or the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions, by majority vote, may appoint personnel as needed to implement and administer the provisions of this subchapter.

(b) The salaries of the personnel shall be paid from county funds available for payment of officers' salaries subject to the approval of the commissioners court or from funds available from the state and federal governments as provided by this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.2061. Supervision of Associate Judges.

(a) The office of court administration shall assist the presiding judges in:

(1) monitoring the associate judges' compliance with any applicable job performance standards, uniform practices adopted by the presiding judges, and federal and state laws and policies;

(2) addressing the training needs and resource requirements of the associate judges;

(3) conducting annual performance evaluations for the associate judges and other personnel appointed under this subchapter based on written personnel performance standards adopted by the presiding judges and performance information solicited from the referring courts and other relevant persons; and

(4) receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints about particular associate judges or the associate judge program under this subchapter based on a uniform process adopted by the presiding judges.

(b) The office of court administration shall develop procedures and a written evaluation form to be used by the presiding judges in conducting the annual performance evaluations under Subsection (a)(3).

(c) Each judge of a court that refers cases to an associate judge under this subchapter may submit to the presiding judge or the office of court administration information on the associate judge's performance during the preceding year based on a uniform process adopted by the presiding judges.

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Sec. 201.207. State and Federal Funds; Personnel.

(a) The office of court administration may contract for available state and federal funds from any source and may employ personnel needed to implement and administer this subchapter. An associate judge and other personnel appointed under this subsection are state employees for all purposes, including accrual of leave time, insurance benefits, retirement benefits, and travel regulations.

(b) The presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions, state agencies, and counties may contract for available federal funds from any source to reimburse costs and salaries associated with associate judges and personnel appointed under this section and may also use available state funds and public or private grants.

(c) The presiding judges and the office of court administration in cooperation with other agencies shall take action necessary to maximize the amount of federal money available to fund the use of associate judges under this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.208. Assignment of Judges and Appointment of Visiting Associate Judges.

(a) This chapter does not limit the authority of a presiding judge to assign a judge eligible for assignment under Chapter 74, Government Code, to assist in processing cases in a reasonable time.

(b) If an associate judge appointed under this subchapter is temporarily unable to perform the associate judge's official duties because of absence resulting from family circumstances, illness, injury, disability, or military service, or if there is a vacancy in the position of associate judge, the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region in which the associate judge serves or the vacancy occurs may appoint a visiting associate judge to perform the duties of the associate judge during the period the associate judge is unable to perform the associate judge's duties or until another associate judge is appointed to fill the vacancy.

(c) A person is not eligible for appointment under this section unless the person has served as a master or associate judge under this chapter, a district judge, or a statutory county court judge for at least two years before the date of appointment.

(d) A visiting associate judge appointed under this section is subject to each provision of this chapter that applies to an associate judge serving under a regular appointment under this subchapter. A visiting associate judge appointed under this section is entitled to compensation, to be determined by a majority vote of the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions, through use of funds under this subchapter. A visiting associate judge is not considered to be a state employee for any purpose.

(e) Section 2252.901, Government Code, does not apply to the appointment of a visiting associate judge under this section.

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Sec. 201.209. Limitation on Law Practice by Associate Judge. An associate judge appointed under this subchapter may not engage in the private practice of law.

Subch. D. Associate Judge for Juvenile Matters

Sec. 201.301. Applicability. This subchapter applies only to an associate judge appointed under this subchapter and does not apply to a juvenile court master appointed under Subchapter K, Chapter 54, Government Code.

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Sec. 201.302. Appointment.

(a) A judge of a court that is designated as a juvenile court may appoint a full–time or part–time associate judge to perform the duties authorized by this chapter if the commissioners court of a county in which the court has jurisdiction has authorized creation of an associate judge position.

(b) If a court has jurisdiction in more than one county, an associate judge appointed by that court may serve only in a county in which the commissioners court has authorized the appointment.

(c) If more than one court in a county has been designated as a juvenile court, the commissioners court may authorize the appointment of an associate judge for each court or may authorize one or more associate judges to share service with two or more courts.

(d) If an associate judge serves more than one court, the associate judge's appointment must be made as established by local rule, but in no event by less than a vote of two–thirds of the judges under whom the associate judge serves.

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Sec. 201.303. Qualifications. To qualify for appointment as an associate judge under this subchapter, a person must:

(1) be a resident of this state and one of the counties the person will serve;

(2) have been licensed to practice law in this state for at least four years;

(3) not have been removed from office by impeachment, by the supreme court, by the governor on address to the legislature, by a tribunal reviewing a recommendation of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, or by the legislature's abolition of the judge's court; and

(4) not have resigned from office after having received notice that formal proceedings by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had been instituted as provided in Section 33.022, Government Code, and before final disposition of the proceedings.

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Sec. 201.304. Compensation.

(a) An associate judge shall be paid a salary determined by the commissioners court of the county in which the associate judge serves.

(b) If an associate judge serves in more than one county, the associate judge shall be paid a salary as determined by agreement of the commissioners courts of the counties in which the associate judge serves.

(c) The associate judge's salary is paid from the county fund available for payment of officers' salaries.

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Sec. 201.305. Termination.

(a) An associate judge who serves a single court serves at the will of the judge of that court.

(b) The employment of an associate judge who serves more than two courts may only be terminated by a majority vote of all the judges of the courts which the associate judge serves.

(c) The employment of an associate judge who serves two courts may be terminated by either of the judges of the courts which the associate judge serves.

(d) To terminate an associate judge's employment, the appropriate judges must sign a written order of termination. The order must state:

(1) the associate judge's name and state bar identification number;

(2) each court ordering termination; and

(3) the date the associate judge's employment ends.

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Sec. 201.306. Cases that May Be Referred.

(a) Except as provided by this section, a judge of a juvenile court may refer to an associate judge any aspect of a juvenile matter brought:

(1) under this title or Title 3; or

(2) in connection with Rule 308a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

(b) Unless a party files a written objection to the associate judge hearing a trial on the merits, the judge may refer the trial to the associate judge. A trial on the merits is any final adjudication from which an appeal may be taken to a court of appeals.

(c) A party must file an objection to an associate judge hearing a trial on the merits or presiding at a jury trial not later than the 10th day after the date the party receives notice that the associate judge will hear the trial. If an objection is filed, the referring court shall hear the trial on the merits or preside at a jury trial.

(d) The requirements of Subsections (b) and (c) apply when a judge has authority to refer the trial of a suit under this title, Title 1, or Title 4 to an associate judge, master, or other assistant judge regardless of whether the assistant judge is appointed under this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.307. Methods of Referral.

(a) A case may be referred to an associate judge by an order of referral in a specific case or by an omnibus order.

(b) The order of referral may limit the power or duties of an associate judge.

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Sec. 201.308. Powers of Associate Judge.

(a) Except as limited by an order of referral, an associate judge may:

(1) conduct a hearing;

(2) hear evidence;

(3) compel production of relevant evidence;

(4) rule on the admissibility of evidence;

(5) issue a summons for:

(A) the appearance of witnesses; and

(B) the appearance of a parent who has failed to appear before an agency authorized to conduct an investigation of an allegation of abuse or neglect of a child after receiving proper notice;

(6) examine a witness;

(7) swear a witness for a hearing;

(8) make findings of fact on evidence;

(9) formulate conclusions of law;

(10) recommend an order to be rendered in a case;

(11) regulate proceedings in a hearing;

(12) order the attachment of a witness or party who fails to obey a subpoena;

(13) order the detention of a witness or party found guilty of contempt, pending approval by the referring court; and

(14) take action as necessary and proper for the efficient performance of the associate judge's duties.

(b) An associate judge may, in the interest of justice, refer a case back to the referring court regardless of whether a timely objection to the associate judge hearing the trial on the merits or presiding at a jury trial has been made by any party.

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Sec. 201.309. Referees.

(a) An associate judge appointed under this subchapter may serve as a referee as provided by Sections 51.04(g) and 54.10.

(b) A referee appointed under Section 51.04(g) may be appointed to serve as an associate judge under this subchapter.

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Sec. 201.310. Attendance of Bailiff. A bailiff may attend a hearing by an associate judge if directed by the referring court.

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Sec. 201.311. Witness.

(a) A witness appearing before an associate judge is subject to the penalties for perjury provided by law.

(b) A referring court may fine or imprison a witness who:

(1) failed to appear before an associate judge after being summoned; or

(2) improperly refused to answer questions if the refusal has been certified to the court by the associate judge.

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Sec. 201.312. Court Reporter; Record.

(a) A court reporter may be provided during a hearing held by an associate judge appointed under this subchapter. A court reporter is required to be provided when the associate judge presides over a jury trial or a contested final termination hearing.

(b) A party, the associate judge, or the referring court may provide for a reporter during the hearing if one is not otherwise provided.

(c) Except as provided by Subsection (a), in the absence of a court reporter or on agreement of the parties, the record may be preserved by any means approved by the associate judge.

(d) The referring court or associate judge may assess the expense of preserving the record as costs.

(e) On a request for a de novo hearing, the referring court may consider testimony or other evidence in the record, if the record is taken by a court reporter, in addition to witnesses or other matters presented under Section 201.317.

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Sec. 201.313. Report.

(a) The associate judge's report may contain the associate judge's findings, conclusions, or recommendations and may be in the form of a proposed order. The associate judge's report must be in writing and in the form directed by the referring court.

(b) After a hearing, the associate judge shall provide the parties participating in the hearing notice of the substance of the associate judge's report, including any proposed order.

(c) Notice may be given to the parties:

(1) in open court, by an oral statement or by providing a copy of the associate judge's written report, including any proposed order;

(2) by certified mail, return receipt requested; or

(3) by facsimile.

(d) A rebuttable presumption exists that notice is received on the date stated on:

(1) the signed return receipt, if notice was provided by certified mail; or

(2) the confirmation page produced by the facsimile machine, if notice was provided by facsimile.

(e) After a hearing conducted by an associate judge, the associate judge shall send the associate judge's signed and dated report, including any proposed order, and all other papers relating to the case to the referring court.

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Sec. 201.314. Notice of Right to De Novo Hearing; Waiver.

(a) An associate judge shall give all parties notice of the right to a de novo hearing to the judge of the referring court.

(b) The notice may be given:

(1) by oral statement in open court;

(2) by posting inside or outside the courtroom of the referring court; or

(3) as otherwise directed by the referring court.

(c) Before the start of a hearing by an associate judge, a party may waive the right of a de novo hearing before the referring court in writing or on the record.

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Sec. 201.315. Order of Court.

(a) Pending a de novo hearing before the referring court, a proposed order or judgment of the associate judge is in full force and effect and is enforceable as an order or judgment of the referring court, except for an order providing for the appointment of a receiver.

(b) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is not timely filed or the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court is waived, the proposed order or judgment of the associate judge becomes the order or judgment of the referring court only on the referring court's signing the proposed order or judgment.

(c) An order by an associate judge for the temporary detention or incarceration of a witness or party shall be presented to the referring court on the day the witness or party is detained or incarcerated. The referring court, without prejudice to the right to a de novo hearing provided by Section 201.317, may approve the temporary detention or incarceration or may order the release of the party or witness, with or without bond, pending a de novo hearing. If the referring court is not immediately available, the associate judge may order the release of the party or witness, with or without bond, pending a de novo hearing or may continue the person's detention or incarceration for not more than 72 hours.

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Sec. 201.316. Judicial Action on Associate Judge's Proposed Order or Judgment. Unless a party files a written request for a de novo hearing before the referring court, the referring court may:

(1) adopt, modify, or reject the associate judge's proposed order or judgment;

(2) hear additional evidence; or

(3) recommit the matter to the associate judge for further proceedings.

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Sec. 201.317. De Novo Hearing.

(a) A party may request a de novo hearing before the referring court by filing with the clerk of the referring court a written request not later than the third working day after the date the party receives notice of the substance of the associate judge's report as provided by Section 201.313.

(b) A request for a de novo hearing under this section must specify the issues that will be presented to the referring court. The de novo hearing is limited to the specified issues.

(c) Notice of a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court shall be given to the opposing attorney in the manner provided by Rule 21a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

(d) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is filed by a party, any other party may file a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court not later than the third working day after the date the initial request was filed.

(e) The referring court, after notice to the parties, shall hold a de novo hearing not later than the 30th day after the date the initial request for a de novo hearing was filed with the clerk of the referring court.

(f) In the de novo hearing before the referring court, the parties may present witnesses on the issues specified in the request for hearing. The referring court may also consider the record from the hearing before the associate judge, including the charge to and verdict returned by a jury, if the record was taken by a court reporter.

(g) The denial of relief to a party after a de novo hearing under this section or a party's waiver of the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court does not affect the right of a party to file a motion for new trial, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or other posttrial motions.

(h) A party may not demand a second jury in a de novo hearing before the referring court if the associate judge's proposed order or judgment resulted from a jury trial.

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Sec. 201.318. Appellate Review.

(a) A party's failure to request a de novo hearing before the referring court or a party's waiver of the right to request a de novo hearing before the referring court does not deprive the party of the right to appeal to or request other relief from a court of appeals or the supreme court.

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), the date an order or judgment by the referring court is signed is the controlling date for the purposes of appeal to or request for other relief from a court of appeals or the supreme court.

(c) The date an agreed order or a default order is signed by an associate judge is the controlling date for the purpose of an appeal to, or a request for other relief relating to the order from, a court of appeals or the supreme court.

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Sec. 201.319. Judicial Immunity. An associate judge appointed under this subchapter has the judicial immunity of a district judge.

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Sec. 201.320. Visiting Associate Judge.

(a) If an associate judge appointed under this subchapter is temporarily unable to perform the judge's official duties because of absence or illness, injury, or other disability, a judge of a court having jurisdiction of a suit under this title or Title 1 or 4 may appoint a visiting associate judge to perform the duties of the associate judge during the period of the associate judge's absence or disability if the commissioners court of a county in which the court has jurisdiction authorizes the employment of a visiting associate judge.

(b) To be eligible for appointment under this section, a person must have served as an associate judge for at least two years.

(c) Sections 201.001 through 201.017 apply to a visiting associate judge appointed under this section.

Ch. 202. Friend of the Court

Sec. 202.001. Appointment.

(a) After an order for child support or possession of or access to a child has been rendered, a court may appoint a friend of the court on:

(1) the request of a person alleging that the order has been violated; or

(2) its own motion.

(b) A court may appoint a friend of the court in a proceeding under Part D of Title IV of the federal Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. Section 651 et seq.) only if the Title IV–D agency agrees in writing to the appointment.

(c) The duration of the appointment of a friend of the court is as determined by the court.

(d) In the appointment of a friend of the court, the court shall give preference to:

(1) a local domestic relations office;

(2) a local child support collection office;

(3) the local court official designated to enforce actions as provided in Chapter 159; or

(4) an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Texas.

(e) In the execution of a friend of the court's duties under this subchapter, a friend of the court shall represent the court to ensure compliance with the court's order.

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Sec. 202.002. Authority and Duties.

(a) A friend of the court may coordinate nonjudicial efforts to improve compliance with a court order relating to child support or possession of or access to a child by use of:

(1) telephone communication;

(2) written communication;

(3) one or more volunteer advocates under Chapter 107;

(4) informal pretrial consultation;

(5) one or more of the alternate dispute resolution methods under Chapter 154, Civil Practice and Remedies Code;

(6) a licensed social worker;

(7) a family mediator; and

(8) employment agencies, retraining programs, and any similar resources to ensure that both parents can meet their financial obligations to the child.

(b) A friend of the court, not later than the 15th day of the month following the reporting month:

(1) shall report to the court or monitor reports made to the court on:

(A) the amount of child support collected as a percentage of the amount ordered; and

(B) efforts to ensure compliance with orders relating to possession of or access to a child; and

(2) may file an action to enforce, clarify, or modify a court order relating to child support or possession of or access to a child.

(c) A friend of the court may file a notice of delinquency and a request for a writ of income withholding under Chapter 158 in order to enforce a child support order.

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Sec. 202.003. Duty of Local Offices and Officials to Report. A local domestic relations office, a local registry, or a court official designated to receive child support under a court order shall, if ordered by the court, report to the court or a friend of the court on a monthly basis:

(1) any delinquency and arrearage in child support payments; and

(2) any violation of an order relating to possession of or access to a child.

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Sec. 202.004. Access to Information. A friend of the court may arrange access to child support payment records by electronic means if the records are computerized.

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Sec. 202.005. Compensation.

(a) A friend of the court is entitled to compensation for services rendered and for expenses incurred in rendering the services.

(b) The court may assess the amount that the friend of the court receives in compensation against a party to the suit in the same manner as the court awards costs under Chapter 106.

(c) A friend of the court or a person who acts as the court's custodian of child support records, including the clerk of a court, may apply for and receive funds from the child support and court management account under Section 21.007, Government Code.

(d) A friend of the court who receives funds under Subsection (c) shall use the funds to reimburse any compensation the friend of the court received under Subsection (b).

Ch. 203. Domestic Relations Offices

Sec. 203.001. Definitions. In this chapter:

(1) "Administering entity" means a commissioners court, juvenile board, or other entity responsible for administering a domestic relations office under this chapter.

(2) "Domestic relations office" means a county office that serves families, county departments, and courts to ensure effective implementation of this title.

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Sec. 203.002. Establishment of Domestic Relations Office. A commissioners court may establish a domestic relations office.

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Sec. 203.003. Administration.

(a) A domestic relations office shall be administered:

(1) as provided by the commissioners court; or

(2) if the commissioners court does not otherwise provide for the administration of the office, by the juvenile board that serves the county in which the domestic relations office is located.

(b) The administering entity shall appoint and assign the duties of a director who shall be responsible for the day–to–day administration of the office. A director serves at the pleasure of the administering entity.

(c) The administering entity shall determine the amount of money needed to operate the office.

(d) A commissioners court that establishes a domestic relations office under this chapter may execute a bond for the office. A bond under this subsection must be:

(1) executed with a solvent surety company authorized to do business in the state; and

(2) conditioned on the faithful performance of the duties of the office.

(e) The administering entity shall establish procedures for the acceptance and use of a grant or donation to the office.

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Sec. 203.004. Powers and Duties.

(a) A domestic relations office may:

(1) collect and disburse child support payments that are ordered by a court to be paid through a domestic relations registry;

(2) maintain records of payments and disbursements made under Subdivision (1);

(3) file a suit, including a suit to:

(A) establish paternity;

(B) enforce a court order for child support or for possession of and access to a child; and

(C) modify or clarify an existing child support order;

(4) provide an informal forum in which alternative dispute resolution is used to resolve disputes under this code;

(5) prepare a court–ordered child custody evaluation or adoption evaluation under Chapter 107;

(6) represent a child as an amicus attorney, an attorney ad litem, or a guardian ad litem in a suit in which:

(A) termination of the parent–child relationship is sought; or

(B) conservatorship of or access to a child is contested;

(7) serve as a friend of the court;

(8) provide predivorce counseling ordered by a court;

(9) provide community supervision services under Chapter 157;

(10) provide information to assist a party in understanding, complying with, or enforcing the party's duties and obligations under Subdivision (3);

(11) provide, directly or through a contract, visitation services, including supervision of court–ordered visitation, visitation exchange, or other similar services;

(12) issue an administrative writ of withholding under Subchapter F, Chapter 158; and

(13) provide parenting coordinator services under Chapter 153.

(b) A court having jurisdiction in a proceeding under this title, Title 3, or Section 25.05, Penal Code, may order that child support payments be made through a domestic relations office.

(c) A domestic relations office may:

(1) hire or contract for the services of attorneys to assist the office in providing services under this chapter; and

(2) employ community supervision officers or court monitors.

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Sec. 203.005. Fees and Charges.

(a) The administering entity may authorize a domestic relations office to assess and collect:

(1) an initial operations fee not to exceed $15 to be paid to the domestic relations office on each filing of an original suit, motion for modification, or motion for enforcement;

(2) in a county that has a child support enforcement cooperative agreement with the Title IV–D agency, an initial child support service fee not to exceed $36 to be paid to the domestic relations office on the filing of an original suit;

(3) a reasonable application fee to be paid by an applicant requesting services from the office;

(4) a reasonable attorney's fee and court costs incurred or ordered by the court;

(5) a monthly service fee not to exceed $3 to be paid annually in advance by a managing conservator and possessory conservator for whom the domestic relations office provides child support services;

(6) community supervision fees as provided by Chapter 157 if community supervision officers are employed by the domestic relations office;

(7) a reasonable fee for preparation of a court–ordered child custody evaluation or adoption evaluation;

(8) in a county that provides visitation services under Sections 153.014 and 203.004 a reasonable fee to be paid to the domestic relations office at the time the visitation services are provided;

(9) a fee to reimburse the domestic relations office for a fee required to be paid under Section 158.503(d) for filing an administrative writ of withholding;

(10) a reasonable fee for parenting coordinator services; and

(11) a reasonable fee for alternative dispute resolution services.

(b) The first payment of a fee under Subsection (a)(5) is due on the date that the person required to pay support is ordered to begin child support, alimony, or separate maintenance payments. Subsequent payments of the fee are due annually and in advance.

(c) The director of a domestic relations office shall attempt to collect all fees in an efficient manner.

(d) The administering entity may provide for an exemption from the payment of a fee authorized under this section if payment of the fee is not practical or in the interest of justice. Fees that may be exempted under this subsection include fees related to:

(1) spousal and child support payments made under an interstate pact;

(2) a suit brought by the Texas Department of Human Services;

(3) activities performed by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services or another governmental agency, a private adoption agency, or a charitable organization; and

(4) services for a person who has applied for or who receives public assistance under the laws of this state.

(e) A fee authorized by this section for providing child support services is part of the child support obligation and may be enforced against both an obligor and obligee by any method available for the enforcement of child support, including contempt.

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Sec. 203.006. Fund.

(a) As determined by the administering entity, fees collected or received by a domestic relations office shall be deposited in:

(1) the general fund for the county in which the domestic relations office is located; or

(2) the office fund established for the domestic relations office.

(b) The administering entity shall use the domestic relations office fund to provide money for services authorized by this chapter.

(c) A domestic relations office fund may be supplemented as necessary from the county's general fund or from other money available from the county.

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Sec. 203.007. Access to Records; Offense.

(a) A domestic relations office may obtain the records described by Subsections (b), (c), (d), and (e) that relate to a person who has:

(1) been ordered to pay child support;

(2) been designated as a conservator of a child;

(3) been designated to be the father of a child;

(4) executed an acknowledgment of paternity;

(5) court–ordered possession of a child; or

(6) filed suit to adopt a child.

(b) A domestic relations office is entitled to obtain from the Department of Public Safety records that relate to:

(1) a person's date of birth;

(2) a person's most recent address;

(3) a person's current driver's license status;

(4) motor vehicle accidents involving a person;

(5) reported traffic–law violations of which a person has been convicted; and

(6) a person's criminal history record information.

(c) A domestic relations office is entitled to obtain from the Texas Workforce Commission records that relate to:

(1) a person's address;

(2) a person's employment status and earnings;

(3) the name and address of a person's current or former employer; and

(4) unemployment compensation benefits received by a person.

(d) To the extent permitted by federal law, a domestic relations office is entitled to obtain from the national directory of new hires established under 42 U.S.C. Section 653(i), as amended, records that relate to a person described by Subsection (a), including records that relate to:

(1) the name, telephone number, and address of the person's employer;

(2) information provided by the person on a W–4 form; and

(3) information provided by the person's employer on a Title IV–D form.

(e) To the extent permitted by federal law, a domestic relations office is entitled to obtain from the state case registry records that relate to a person described by Subsection (a), including records that relate to:

(1) the street and mailing address and the social security number of the person;

(2) the name, telephone number, and address of the person's employer;

(3) the location and value of real and personal property owned by the person; and

(4) the name and address of each financial institution in which the person maintains an account and the account number for each account.

(f) An agency required to provide records under this section may charge a domestic relations office a fee for providing the records in an amount that does not exceed the amount paid for those records by the agency responsible for Title IV–D cases.

(g) The Department of Public Safety, the Texas Workforce Commission, or the office of the secretary of state may charge a domestic relations office a fee not to exceed the charge paid by the Title IV–D agency for furnishing records under this section.

(h) Information obtained by a domestic relations office under this section that is confidential under a constitution, statute, judicial decision, or rule is privileged and may be used only by that office.

(i) A person commits an offense if the person releases or discloses confidential information obtained under this section without the consent of the person to whom the information relates. An offense under this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor.

(j) A domestic relations office is entitled to obtain from the office of the secretary of state the following information about a registered voter to the extent that the information is available:

(1) complete name;

(2) current and former street and mailing address;

(3) sex;

(4) date of birth;

(5) social security number; and

(6) telephone number.

Ch. 204. Child Support Collection by Private Entity

Sec. 204.001. Applicability. This chapter applies only to a commissioners court or domestic relations office of a county that did not have the authority to contract with a private entity to receive, disburse, and record payments or restitution of child support on January 1, 1997.

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Sec. 204.002. Authority to Contract. A county, acting through its commissioners court or domestic relations office, may contract with a private entity to:

(1) enforce, collect, receive, and disburse:

(A) child support payments;

(B) other amounts due under a court order containing an order to pay child support; and

(C) fees, including fees provided by this chapter;

(2) maintain appropriate records, including records of child support and other amounts and fees that are due, past due, paid, or delinquent;

(3) locate absent parents;

(4) furnish statements to parents accounting for payments that are due, past due, paid, or delinquent;

(5) send billings and other appropriate notices to parents;

(6) perform any duty or function that a local registry is authorized to perform;

(7) perform any duty or function in connection with the state case registry; or

(8) provide another child support or visitation enforcement service authorized by the commissioners court, including mediation of disputes related to child support or visitation.

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Sec. 204.003. Terms and Conditions of Contract. The commissioners court or domestic relations office shall include all appropriate terms and conditions in the contract that it determines are reasonable to secure the services of a private entity as provided by this chapter, including:

(1) provisions specifying the services to be provided by the entity;

(2) the method, conditions, and amount of compensation for the entity;

(3) provisions for the security of funds collected as child support, fees, or other amounts under the contract or that otherwise provide reasonable assurance to the county of the entity's full and faithful performance of the contract;

(4) provisions specifying the records to be kept by the entity, including any records necessary to fully account for all funds received and disbursed as child support, fees, or other amounts;

(5) requirements governing the inspection, verification, audit, or explanation of the entity's accounting or other records;

(6) the county's right to terminate the contract on 30 days' notice to the private entity if the private entity engages in an ongoing pattern of child support enforcement that constitutes wilful and gross misconduct subjecting delinquent obligors to unconscionable duress, abuse, or harassment;

(7) provisions permitting an obligor and obligee to jointly waive the monitoring procedure, if not required by law, by written request approved by order of the court having jurisdiction of the suit in which the child support order was issued; and

(8) provisions for the disclosure or nondisclosure of information or records maintained or known to the entity as a result of contract performance, including a requirement for the private entity to:

(A) disclose to any child support obligor that the private entity is attempting to enforce the obligor's child support obligation; and

(B) make no disclosure of the information or records other than in furtherance of the effort to enforce the child support order.

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Sec. 204.004. Funding.

(a) To provide or recover the costs of providing services authorized by this chapter, a commissioners court, on its behalf or on behalf of the domestic relations office, may:

(1) provide by order for the assessment and collection of a reasonable fee at the time a party files a suit affecting the parent–child relationship;

(2) provide by order for the assessment and collection of a fee of $3 per month at a time specified for payment of child support;

(3) provide by order for the assessment and collection of a late payment fee of $4 per month to be imposed if an obligor does not make a payment of child support in full when due;

(4) accept or receive funds from public grants or private sources available for providing services authorized by this chapter; or

(5) use any combination of funding sources specified by this subsection.

(b) The commissioners court, on its behalf or on behalf of the domestic relations office, may:

(1) provide by order for reasonable exemptions from the collection of fees authorized by Subsection (a); and

(2) require payment of a fee authorized by Subsection (a)(2) annually and in advance.

(c) The commissioners court may not charge a fee under Subsection (a)(2) if the amount of child support ordered to be paid is less than the equivalent of $100 per month.

(d) The fees established under Subsection (a) may be collected by any means provided for the collection of child support. The commissioners court may provide by order, on its behalf or on behalf of the domestic relations office, for the manner of collection of fees and the apportionment of payments received to meet fee obligations.

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Sec. 204.005. Cumulative Effect of Chapter. A power or duty conferred on a county, county official, or county instrumentality by this chapter is cumulative of the powers and duties created or conferred by other law.

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