Don’t File A Texas Divorce Without An Attorney

A man reading a law book about divorce.
Filing for a Texas divorce is not something you should attempt on your own. Photo by JW. Smithy.

Today, thanks to the internet, we have access to an incredible amount of information. With just a few taps on a keyboard, you can learn how to do anything. But ask yourself this: Would reading a few articles and watching a video about divorce without an attorney make you an expert?

In Texas, the divorce process is complicated. There are many different things to consider. Attorneys spend years in school studying cases to gain the knowledge necessary to provide quality legal advice. They have thousands of hours of practice before they represent clients.  

Texas Divorce lawyers can offer you their guidance and shepherd you through your divorce. They can also see issues that may not occur to a novice when you file for divorce in Texas. Even if it is an uncontested divorce, it is in your best interest to seek out an experienced lawyer to handle the pitfalls of divorce, such as complicated financial issues and child custody. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t file for divorce without an attorney.

Your Spouse Is Hiding Assets

In a typical marriage, spouses share their property. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for divorcing people in Texas to hide assets. Concealing cash, jewelry, and other valuables can add up to tremendous missed opportunities if you don’t know where to look.

The courts know this is a problem. Therefore, during a Texas divorce, both spouses are required to complete financial affidavits. This is a disclosure of all of their income and assets. However, each person should look over all the documentation to confirm the information is accurate. Here are some of the best things to do:

  1. Conduct public records search to determine whether your spouse owns any undisclosed real estate.
  1. If you have been filing taxes separately, review your partner’s previous tax returns and 1099 forms. This can uncover any unreported income or accounts.
  1. Look for suspicious purchases or transfers made from any shared bank or brokerage accounts.
  1. Confirm that only the accounts you know about pay household bills.
  1. Compare monthly expenses to reported income. Ensure these numbers add up.

The discovery process is where divorce without a lawyer could be costly. Family law offices will have detailed knowledge of this process. They should also have connections to experts such as forensic accountants who can help uncover wrongdoing. Trying to accomplish these tasks on your own could result in missed opportunities that may cost you money, even if it is an uncontested divorce. 

Get the Child Support Your Baby Deserves

If you have children through your marriage, your divorce will be that much more complicated. There are several issues to address when kids are in the picture.

  1. Determine who will get custody of the children. 
  1. Establish a visitation schedule that works for both parents. 
  1. Decide the amount and frequency of child support payments, including medical and dental reimbursements.

If you and your soon-to-be-ex can work all this out, that’s great. In reality, having a lawyer by your side through the process will help tremendously. There may be essential items that you overlook. An attorney will also have a better idea of what the court will consider to be a fair parenting plan.

Many of the issues in a custody hearing require detailed documentation. Additionally, if you are unsure of your rights in these matters, you should involve a lawyer as soon as possible.

Consider Long Term Planning

An attorney often has the experience to be aware of longer-term concerns that you may want to consider when you are getting a divorce. For example, an attorney can advise you on how future income can be estimated for a spouse who is deemed to have a bright financial future and how spousal support or child support could be modified in the future if there is a significant change in circumstances.

Contested Divorce

In a contested divorce, it may be a good idea to hire an attorney and get legal advice. Your attorney will be more effective in helping you to fight your case and defend your rights than if you went it alone in a pro se divorce. In the event that things get ugly with your spouse, you may be able to use your attorney as a shield to help you go through the divorce proceedings and defend your rights.

If there is domestic violence in your marriage, it is highly recommended you engage a lawyer to defend your rights.

Divorce In A Same-Sex Marriage

If you are in a same-sex marriage and you want to file for divorce in Texas, you often may want to get the advice of an attorney given that different states interpret laws differently and court judgments are also evolving.

For example, if either wife in a same-sex marriage had a child during the marriage or is pregnant, you may need to consult a family law attorney specializing in LGBT issues given that the law is still unclear in this area.

Should I Sign Papers In A Divorce Without An Attorney?

Speaking of detailed documentation, at the conclusion of your divorce mediation or trial, one of the attorneys will prepare a Final Decree of Divorce. This is the ultimate binding document of your divorce.

The Final Decree will contain all of the items you’ve agreed upon or all of the court’s rulings and will resolve the divorce once and for all. Before signing this paper, it would be prudent to have counsel review that all of the language proposed is in order. If instead, you choose to divorce without a lawyer, there is a chance that you could miss important omissions in the text in your Final Decree.

Understanding The Divorce Process Without An Attorney

It’s important to understand the process when you get divorced from your spouse pro se without lawyer representation in court.

Meeting Texas Residency Requirements

It doesn’t matter if you have a contested or uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse have not continuously resided in the state for at least six months, filing for divorce in Texas is not possible.

Filing A Divorce Petition

Filing a divorce petition will formally begin the divorce proceedings. You can get the petition from the county clerk’s office. In this petition, you must state the contact details of you and your spouse, financial information, property, debts, proposed settlement arrangement, and the reasons why you want to get divorced.

Once you have completed the petition, you will need to file it with the clerk’s office and pay the filing fees. The court will assign a “cause number” and stamp the petition to confirm that it has been filed.

The state of Texas allows you to file an uncontested divorce as a no-fault divorce. You can get a divorce as long as one spouse believes that the relationship cannot be saved even with additional time and support.

Serve Divorce Papers To Your Spouse

You can either deliver the papers to your spouse personally, ask the sheriff’s office to deliver them or have a third party deliver them. You must obtain proof that you have served the papers to inform them of the divorce filing.

Alternatively, your spouse can sign a Waiver of Citation form that indicates that their agreement that they do not have to be served the petition and that they agree with the details you filed in your petition. It also indicates their agreement that it is an uncontested divorce.

If your spouse is the one who filed for the divorce, you will receive the divorce papers containing information they filed about the divorce as legal notice.

File Temporary Orders

You may need to file temporary orders while waiting for the court hearing, especially if you are dealing with an abusive spouse and need to protect your children. If you can provide information that proves the need, a judge can order a temporary restraining order or alimony from one spouse to another.

Finalize Divorce Agreement

The clerk’s office will set a date and time for your court hearing. Under Texas law, this will be at least 60 days after the divorce petition is filed so that spouses have time to try and work out their differences.

Before the hearing, you and your spouse can take the time to discuss the terms of the divorce decree. If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of the divorce decree in an uncontested divorce, this is a fairly straightforward process and you simply have to bring the divorce decree to the judge to review during your court hearing. If both of you do not agree, the court hearing will become even more important.

The divorce decree should contain all the terms that establish the rights and obligations of each spouse after marriage. It often also contains custody and visitation terms for the children.

Attend Court Hearing

The judge may ask questions to make sure you and your spouse both agree on the terms. During the court hearing, your divorce petition and proposed divorce agreement would be reviewed. The judge will sign off on the divorce decree and agreement before formalizing it in a court order.

However, if you and your spouse both disagree, this is where things can get more challenging. A trial before a judge would be required. Both of you will need to make your arguments in court about why your proposed arrangement is the best option. This is when you may want to engage the expertise of a law firm to present a compelling case and present evidence to the court. Bring all the information you have gathered while preparing for your case.

The outcome of the court hearing will have serious implications on your life after marriage. Often, the terms of the divorce decree will resolve the division of the marital property between spouses, alimony, child support, and the custody and visitation of the children. Marital property can include land, houses, retirement accounts, and vehicles that were acquired during the marriage. In some cases, marital property can also include the growth of a family business that took place during the marriage.

It can also mean getting physical custody of your children instead of only getting to see them during the court-mandated visitation schedule. In a time like this, it may not be worth it to try and save on legal fees. Hire an attorney to help you.

Your Spouse Can Change Their Mind In An Uncontested Divorce

Even if you and your spouse originally agreed on all the important terms such as child custody, alimony, and property division, there is a chance your spouse can change their mind during the process. If they lawyer up, you will most likely have to lawyer up as well to defend your rights.

File Divorce Decree With Clerk’s Office

The final step you must do is to file the divorce decree the judge has signed with the clerk’s office. You and your spouse will each receive one copy of the final divorce decree.

Appealing An Divorce Decree

If you want to appeal against certain terms in the divorce decree, you will need to attend another court hearing. An appeal gives another court the opportunity to look at the trial court’s decision to assess if there was any legal error that could change the final divorce decree.

An appeal case can often involve complex legal standards and arguments and isn’t as simple as asking the judge to reconsider the case. The appeal court will not reconsider factual determinations. You must engage a lawyer if you are appealing a divorce decree due to the complexity involved.

Modifying Divorce Decrees

If you need to make changes to your divorce decree, you can file a modification case. As with a typical divorce case, if your former spouse agrees with you, the case will be fairly straightforward although you need to show evidence of a significant change in circumstances that warrants a modification.

Lawyer-Up in a Texas Divorce

In Texas, a lawyer is not legally required during a divorce. But, if your spouse hires one to help him/her, you should strongly consider doing the same. Think about what is at stake during the process. It is best to be on a level playing field. There are many issues and legal matters you must address. The outcome can significantly impact your future and you don’t want to regret not having an expert on your case. It is extremely difficult to significantly modify a divorce decree once the judge has signed off. 

Don’t take on such a complicated matter alone. Experienced attorneys like those at Sabelhaus and Lynch can help you navigate your divorce step by step. They can provide the support and representation you need to resolve the unique issues in your case. We have decades of experience in Texas state family law and can provide legal advice. Contact us today for a no-cost case consultation.