How do I get a divorce in Texas? What is the first step in the legal process?
The divorce process starts with the filing of a document entitled Original Petition for Divorce with a court in the county in which one of you resides. The party who files the divorce is called the Petitioner and the other party is the Respondent (unless the parties choose to file together as Joint Petitioners). In order to file a divorce in Texas, either party must have lived in Texas for six months and been a resident of the county in which the suit is filed for the preceding 90-day period. If children were born to or adopted during the marriage, a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship is included in the Original Petition for Divorce.
Texas is a “no fault” divorce state; a party does not have to prove fault in the marriage in order for the Court to grant a divorce. The petition will simply state that the marriage has become “insupportable” and no possibility for reconciliation exists. (Texas law also provides for fault-based divorces, such as adultery or cruelty). If you believe there is a reason for you to pursue a fault-based divorce, you should consult with an attorney to discuss the pros and cons of this. The Court must dispose of all property issues and make orders for the conservatorship (custody) and support of the children of the marriage at the same time it grants the divorce.
What happens after the divorce petition has been filed?
After it is filed, the Original Petition for Divorce (the Petition) must be delivered to the Petitioner’s spouse, the Respondent. The Respondent may be formally served or the Petition can simply be delivered. The Respondent is “served” when the petition is delivered to him or her by a sheriff, constable or private process server. Respondent must file an “answer” before the answer deadline (the first Monday after 20 days from the date of service), only if he or she is served with the Petition by a sheriff, constable or private process server. If you have been served with a citation, then you need to immediately contact an attorney.
In certain circumstances, the Petitioner may wish to give or to mail Respondent a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce. Respondent also may waive service by filing a notarized Waiver of Service after the petition is filed.
How do I protect myself and make sure I have what I need during the divorce?
It is important that divorcing parties know how their expenses will be paid and how the income will be used during the pendency of the divorce, just as it is important that they know when the children will be with each parent. Sometimes this is done completely informally just by the parents talking. In some situations, the parties may decide that they need Temporary Orders. Temporary Orders are a more formal, and enforceable, way to address the issues that may arise between the date the parties separate and the date the divorce is final. The goal is to outline the rules the parties will live by during the divorce so that the case may be resolved as amicably as possible. Depending on the settlement process chosen, the parties may submit Agreed Temporary Orders or the Court can enter Temporary Orders after a hearing. The orders are effective until the divorce is finalized.
In many Texas counties (including, Dallas, Rockwall, Denton, and Collin Counties), the Courts have implemented “standing orders” which are applicable to all parties in every divorce suit from the time the divorce is filed. The purpose of “standing orders” is to protect and preserve the parties, their children and their property while the divorce is pending by prohibiting certain behavior. The goal is to maintain the status quo. Some examples of prohibited behavior are:
- Removing the children from the state;
- Withdrawing children from their current school or day-care facility;
- Hiding the children;
- Verbally or physically threatening the other party;
- Selling, transferring, destroying or hiding property;
- Making withdrawals from bank accounts or incurring debt for any purpose other than normal living expenses, business expenses or attorney fees;
- Destroying personal or business records; or
- Canceling, altering, or otherwise affecting casualty, automobile, health or life insurance policies, including changing beneficiary designations.
(These are just a few examples; be sure to carefully read any standing order in your divorce, follow the order, and seek legal advice if you don’t understand something, or need to have something modified in the standing order.)
How do I make sure I know everything I need to know before I agree or go to court?
Each party to a divorce has the right to obtain complete information about the assets and liabilities of the other party and the marriage. Discovery is the process of gathering information. The parties need sufficient information about the marital estate, both assets and liabilities, before they can agree on its division. Discovery can be cooperative, simple and cost effective; or it can be adversarial, time consuming and expensive. If the parties can agree to voluntarily provide the requested information to each other, many hours and many dollars can be saved. If a party does not voluntarily produce that information, then the information can be obtained through formal discovery methods which include: depositions (requiring oral testimony in front of a court reporter); written interrogatories (questions requiring sworn, written answers); written request for production of documents; written request for admissions (asking the other party to admit or deny certain relevant statements); and, a written Request for Disclosure seeking general information about the case. It is also common for the parties to each prepare and exchange sworn “Inventory and Appraisements” which list all the property and debts and their opinions of values and of any claims of separate property. If the parties cannot agree, if one party requests it, the Court will order the parties to prepare and exchange sworn “Inventory and Appraisements”.
How does it all become final?
Depending on the settlement process chosen, the parties are now ready to negotiate and attempt to reach an agreement on all issues, or to have a trial on all remaining issues and ask the Court to decide. The Court may not grant the divorce before the 60th day after the date the petition was filed whether it is agreed or not. Most divorces require more than 60 days to gather all the information and resolve all the issues, even when the parties are amicable.
Is there anything I should know about divorce in my county?
Most counties in Texas handle divorces in similar ways-the laws are the same-but there are some important differences. In Dallas County (where the primary office of Hance Law Group is located), there are seven Family District Courts, which handle all family law and divorce matters, and don’t handle other types of legal matters. In addition, each Family District Court in Dallas County has an Associate Judge, assigned to that specific court. Associate Judges handle many matters for the District Judges, including almost all temporary order hearings, and most discovery disputes. When your divorce is filed in Dallas County, you are assigned a District Court, which means you will have a specific District Judge and Associate Judge throughout your case. These courts are located in downtown Dallas on Commerce Street in the George L. Allen Courts Building, near the Kennedy Memorial and the West End.
In Rockwall County there are two Civil District Courts and a County Court at Law. These are courts of general jurisdiction (including all civil and criminal matters), and the Divorce and Family Law matters are distributed between them when they are filed with the District Clerk. The Rockwall Judges are accustomed to handling family and divorce matters, and do an excellent job, even though they have a broader docket.
In Collin and Denton counties, divorce and family law matters are all filed in the District Courts, which are also general jurisdiction. Tarrant County has specialized Family Courts, like Dallas County, which handle all divorce and family matters. North Central Texas is lucky to have a strong group of competent Judges, so that the County or Court in which your divorce is filed, will not normally make a significant difference in the outcome.
Hance Law Group also handles divorce and family law matters in any of the counties in North Central Texas and can answer specific questions about your county.
How do I resolve my divorce?
Although filing a Petition, gathering information on which to base an agreement, and preparation of the formal Decree of Divorce, are all essential parts of your divorce, the most important part (and usually the most difficult) is the process of working out the agreements on all of the issues in your divorce. There must be some process for reaching an agreement. The following discussion is intended to review a number of options for doing this.
Kitchen Table Approach
This is simply direct negotiation between the parties. This can work well if both parties are at a high-functioning point in their lives, are honest with each other, are effective at communications with each other, and the issues in their divorce are fairly simple. This can be done just between the parties, or with the outside support of other professionals, such as financial, mental health or attorneys. [read more]
Early Intervention Mediation
In this process, the parties work together with neutral professionals, who can help them identify issues, brainstorm options and create solutions for those issues. The parties might work with a financial professional regarding property division, support and any other financial issues, and with a counselor on issues regarding the children. The parties may reach full agreement on all issues without attorneys, or they may consult with an attorney between sessions. Normally, if a party has an attorney, the attorney would not attend the mediation session (in this type of mediation), but it may be appropriate in certain circumstances. Although it is normally more efficient for the parties to work in the same room with the neutral facilitator(s), the process can be done with the parties meeting with the mediator(s) separately. [read more]
This is a structured, private process in which clients are supported by multiple professionals, including two attorneys, a financial professional and a mental health professional. The professionals assist the clients in interest-based negotiation through multiple joint sessions with some or all of the professionals and both parties. This is an excellent process for those who need this level of professional help. [read more]
Most cases result in a settlement but only after trial preparation and positional bargaining. However, some cases must be tried in a public forum at considerable emotional and financial cost. The outcome may be determined by a judge or jury (although the issues which may be decided by a jury are limited). The litigation process can be compared to an emergency room-it is good to have it when you need it, but you don’t want to be there unless you really have no choice. [read more]
If you have any question as to which process if the best for you, you should consult with an attorney of your choice to help make that decision.
This information is intended as general information only.
You should consult with a lawyer about your specific circumstances.
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