Time needed: 90 days.
Are you wondering how the Texas divorce process works? If you are going through a divorce or about to go through one, it’s normal to be a little anxious. Part of this stress is that you may not be sure what to expect. While each divorce can be slightly different, here’s a broad overview of how the process typically works.
Texas Divorce Steps
- File a Divorce Petition
The Texas divorce process begins with the filing of a document called the Original Petition for Divorce. The Petition is a legal notice of the intent to end the marriage. The courts who files the petition as “the Petitioner.”
The Petition usually provides several important pieces of information, including:
1. The names and addresses of all spouses and children.
2. The legal reason for the divorce.
3. Issues for the court to rule on, such as child support, visitation arrangements, use of property, and division of assets.
Filing for divorce in Texas usually costs $300. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask a judge to waive it. If you make this request, the judge will expect you to provide some evidence to support your claim.
It’s very important to make sure your Petition includes all of the things you are requesting from the divorce. If you forget to mention something, you may not be able to request it from the court later on.
The Petition Must be Filed in the Correct Jurisdiction
Before you can file for divorce in Texas, you have to make sure you are in the correct venue or legal court. In Texas, one of the two spouses must have been a resident of the state where the divorce is filed for at least six months. In addition, one of the two spouses must have been a resident of the county for at least 90 days.
- The Spouse Must Be Notified of the Divorce Petition
Once the petition is filed, the other spouse (“the Respondent”) is given a legal document formally notifying him or her that the Texas divorce process has begun. This is called “being served.”
Note that in Texas, you cannot deliver these papers yourself. The papers must be served by a third party. Most petitioners hire a constable, court clerk, or professional process server to perform this task. If there are no complications, the fee is usually $75 to $150.
Serving your spouse may be done in one visit, or it may take weeks to accomplish. Either way, it is essential that your spouse is properly served. If he or she can honestly claim to be unaware of your intentions, the court probably will not allow the Texas divorce process to move forward.
- Legal Notice to Your Spouse is Obtained
Once your spouse has received legal notice, the process server will give you an affidavit. This document provides proof that your spouse has been served.
Waiver of Service for Uncontested Divorce
There is an exception to this part of the Texas divorce process. If the divorce is uncontested, it means the Respondent does not disagree with any of the terms presented in the original petition for divorce.
In this case, the spouse can sign a Waiver of Service in front of a notary. This document lets the court know the Respondent has been informed of the divorce, has received a copy of the petition and is waiving (surrendering) his or her right to being personally served. Therefore, your spouse has agreed to waive being personally served by a process server and does not have to be served.
You Can Get a Texas Divorce Without the Cooperation of Your Spouse
Occasionally, the other spouse cannot be located. In these situations, the court may authorize the divorce. However, be aware that the court will require you to demonstrate that you have made a sincere effort to find your spouse. You also may have to appoint a neutral third party to attempt to locate the missing spouse, which is an additional fee.
In some divorce cases, the spouse may receive the Petition but choose to ignore it. Note that even if your spouse does not cooperate, the Texas divorce process can continue. In these cases, you may want to consult with an attorney.
Note that a judge cannot grant a divorce for at least 60 days after the Petition has been filed. This waiting period can help the spouses “cool off,” so they can make sure they want to go through with the divorce. One exception: In cases of domestic violence, the court may allow an expedited divorce.
- The Spouse Responds to the Petition
If the spouse is going to contest the divorce, he or she can file an Answer, which is a formal, written response to the Petition. The Respondent may disagree with the proposed child support payments, the allocation of assets, or other issues. The spouse must file this document within twenty days plus the next following Monday.
Note that if you are considering signing a Waiver, it’s important to proceed cautiously. Unless you fully understand what the Petition is saying, you may unintentionally sign away some of your rights to your children, assets, or property.
- The Judge Issues Temporary Orders
After the Petition has been filed, the Texas Family Law court will usually issue Temporary Orders. These orders restrict any negative actions either spouse may take while awaiting the trial. For example, the spouses may be prohibited from selling any community property or hiding the children. The court also may order them to treat each other with respect.
The document establishes temporary arrangements for important issues, including
1. Who will pay which bills
2. Alimony (known in Texas as “spousal maintenance”)
3. Child support payments
4. Child custody (known as “conservatorship”)
5. Temporary visitation rights
The orders usually expire at the time of the trial. However, some of the arrangements may be included in the final settlement.
- The Spouses Try to Reach an Agreement
In the next stage of the Texas divorce process, the spouses try to reach an agreement. They may do this on their own, or they may hire an attorney or mediator.
If they are successful, one of the spouses or attorneys will prepare an Agreed Decree of Divorce. The judge eventually will sign this document, finalizing the divorce process.
- The Couple May Be Required to Try Mediation
If the spouses are not able to reach an agreement, the court will set a trial date. Both parties typically use this time for discovery, the process of exchanging information and documents.
Before the trial, spouses are required to attempt mediation. In mediation, couples work with a mediator, or facilitator, in an effort to resolve their disagreements about the divorce terms. Mediation can shorten the Texas divorce process and reduce your legal fees.
Divorce in Texas is a No-Fault State
If mediation fails, the case goes to trial. Be aware that Texas is a “No-Fault Divorce” state. This means the Petitioner does not have to provide a specific, legal reason for wanting the divorce.
However, if you believe your spouse is significantly more at fault for the failure of the marriage, you should consider sharing this information in your Petition. That’s because the court may take this into consideration in determining how to divide your assets.
Grounds for finding fault include adultery, cruelty, and abandonment. An experienced Texas divorce attorney can help you.
- The Divorce Trial
At the trial, both sides present their evidence to the judge. He or she will also probably ask questions. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will issue rulings on the various issues. This includes conservatorship, child support, spousal maintenance, and division of property and debt.
In usual times, couples typically would have to wait 90-120 days to get their day in court. However, many courts are backed up due to the pandemic, and the current wait time is about 6 months or more.
- The Decree is Prepared
After the trial, one of the attorneys will prepare a Final Decree of Divorce to present to the judge. This document will contain all of the court’s rulings and the agreements between the two parties.
As you might guess, the more issues the couple is fighting over, the longer it can take to complete the final decree. It is not unusual for the process to take several months.
- The Final Decree is Signed
Once the decree is finalized, both spouses will sign it. The document is then presented to the judge at a “prove-up” hearing. This meeting is held to formally request approval for the terms of the decree. Once the judge has determined that the decree is legitimately acceptable to both parties, he or she will sign the document and make the divorce official.
Does the Texas divorce process allow for a jury trial? Yes. However, if you choose to have a jury trial, be aware that this, too, can slow down your divorce and add to your costs.
Spouses Have the Right to Appeal the Ruling
Once the judge has signed the decree, the Texas divorce process is complete—usually. However, either spouse can file an appeal. This document asks the court to reconsider some of the judge’s rulings.
The parties have 30 days to file an appeal. The law does not allow either ex-spouse to get married during this time.
You Don’t Have to Go Through It Alone
Divorces can get complicated and emotional, especially if there are children or significant assets involved. If you need an attorney to help you with the Texas divorce process, Sabelhaus+Lynch is here to help. We are experienced divorce lawyers who can serve you efficiently and compassionately. Contact us today to schedule a no-cost 30-minute case consultation, 817-668-5879.