Texas Family Code Subtitle C, Chapter 201, Subchapter C, allows the presiding judge of each administrative judicial region, to appoint a full-time or part-time associate judge to handle cases filed under Subtitle E of the Texas Family Code. Except as otherwise provided by Chapter 201, Subchapter C, Subchapter A applies to any associate judge appointed by a presiding judge to handle child protection cases filed under Subtitle E, including all powers and duties. The Family Code authorizes judges in civil proceedings to refer cases to associate judges appointed both under Subchapter A and C to handle the disposition of a variety of case-related matters, including trials on the merits in termination of parental rights.[40]

Referral to an associate judge is not binding on the parties, so if either party timely objects, the referring court must hear the trial on the merits or preside at a jury trial.[41] Barring an objection, however, a Subchapter A or C associate judge may determine the merits in either a bench or a jury trial, subject to the parties' post-trial right to request a “de novo hearing” before the referring court within thirty days.[42]