A Step-By-Step Guide To The Divorce Process in Texas
Starting the process of getting a divorce in Texas can feel overwhelming and incredibly complicated initially. For many contemplating divorce, the mere thought of navigating the legal procedures adds a significant amount of stress during an already stressful season.
Initiating a divorce involves filing specific documents in a particular sequence, being mindful of potential pitfalls, and understanding nuanced rules unique to Texas divorce. Without proper guidance, even a seemingly uncomplicated case can be challenging to handle alone.
With this in mind, we’ve created a straightforward guide to demystify the divorce process in Texas. While it’s crucial to seek legal assistance, this outline will give you a basic understanding of the typical steps when getting a divorce in Texas.
1. Connect With A Divorce Lawyer
Establishing a connection with a seasoned divorce lawyer is crucial and should be your first step in the divorce process. Engaging in early conversations with an experienced attorney can give you a considerable edge and help you develop a strategic approach right from the start.
It’s a common misstep for individuals initiating divorce proceedings to delay seeking legal counsel initially, only to realize later that they’ve overlooked critical details that a lawyer could have identified and worked to safeguard against. Issues such as child custody arrangements and the division of assets and debts require careful consideration.
By partnering with a lawyer early on, you’re proactively protecting your interests and setting yourself up for a smoother process ahead.
2. Establish Grounds for Divorce in Texas
Before you can file a petition for divorce with the district court, Texas law requires that you establish grounds for divorce. This essentially means that you must provide a (legally) valid reason for divorcing before you can proceed.
To justify the dissolution of your marriage to the court, Texas Family Code provides seven grounds that you can claim:
- Insupportability (a.k.a. no-fault. This essentially refers to irreconcilable differences, or simply a marriage that you wish to end but that does not qualify for one of the other six grounds for divorce)
- Felony Criminal Conviction
- Confinement in a Mental Hospital
Understanding the distinction between fault-based and no-fault divorce is crucial, as this distinction could influence your eligibility for spousal maintenance (sometimes referred to as alimony).Consulting your divorce lawyer will help you understand what grounds to claim.
3. File the Divorce Petition
You or your divorce attorney will then submit a divorce petition to the court, unless your spouse is the petitioner. This “original petition” officially begins the divorce process in Texas.
In order to file for a divorce you must:
- Have lived in Texas for at least six months before filing
- File in the county that you and/or your spouse have lived in for a minimum of 90 days
Fees and other details will vary slightly from county to county, so make sure to stay in contact with your lawyer throughout this part of the divorce process.
4. Provide Your Spouse With Official Notice
The next step is to provide your spouse with a legal notice that initial divorce papers have been filed. This does not just mean verbally telling them. The three primary methods of “officially” informing your spouse are:
- A waiver of citation can be signed by your spouse
- A process server can be hired
- A notice can be submitted to a publication or posting
If your spouse is amenable, signing the waiver is often the easiest and lowest friction approach. If they are resistant, you will need to pursue one of the other methods.
Here is a simple breakdown of what is required:
Once you have filed a petition for divorce and notified your spouse, they will have the Monday following the expiration of 20 days from the time they officially received notice to respond to your petition.
Your spouse will need to file an official answer, and may also choose to counter-petition with their own grounds for divorce.
5. Complete the Discovery Process & Attempt Settlement
One aspect of the Texas divorce process that is unique is the mandatory “waiting period.” In Texas, the original filing of divorce must be pending for 60 days before a divorce decree can be issued.
While this waiting period gives you and your spouse the breathing room to potentially reconcile, it more commonly serves as a time for you to reach an agreement on the terms of divorce without having to escalate to court. A mediator can be beneficial, as you will save a significant amount of time and money if you can settle during an uncontested divorce.
The Discovery Process in More Detail
The discovery process refers to the phase where both parties gather information and evidence relevant to the case. This process allows each party to obtain information from the other through various legal methods such as:
- Requests for production of documents
- Interrogatories (written questions)
- Depositions (sworn statements taken out of court)
- Requests for admissions
During discovery, both spouses and their attorneys exchange information and documents related to various aspects of the divorce, such as property division, child custody, alimony, and other relevant matters. Discovery is an essential aspect of the waiting period, but can also be a time-consuming process, depending on the complexity of your case and especially if you think that your spouse might have hidden assets.
Armed with the findings from the discovery process, your lawyer will be able to advise you regarding what step you should take next, which might include settlement negotiations and/or attending mediation.
If a settlement cannot be reached, you will likely enter a contested divorce, in which the court will ultimately decide the final terms.
6. Schedule Court Hearing(s) to Finalize Divorce
It’s essential to recognize that even in a contested divorce, mediation remains a viable option. In fact, courts often encourage this form of alternative dispute resolution and may even mandate it before scheduling a final hearing.
While success certainly isn’t guaranteed this far into the divorce process, opting for mediation can significantly reduce stress and could still lead to satisfactory outcomes. Additionally, there are other resources that might be suggested (or mandated) by the court in addition to mediation, including co-parenting counseling.
At the Initial Court Hearing(s)
In Texas, you can schedule your official court hearing after the 60-day waiting period, though exceptions exist for waiving this period in rare cases.
In uncontested divorces, court hearings are usually simpler and resolved more swiftly. However, in contested divorces, your lawyer will advocate for you, present your case, and might need to call witnesses and present evidence found during discovery.
During all the steps of the divorce process, but particularly in this phase, it is crucial to:
- Communicate your exact wishes and concerns regarding the divorce outcome to your lawyer– Especially if your division of assets, child custody arrangements, or other matters are complex, providing every detail well before the trial is vital for effective representation.
- Strive to protect any children involved from being negatively impacted by the parental conflict even when emotions run high– The Children’s Bill of Rights in Texas establishes that children have a right to love and to be loved by both parents regardless of marital status, AND that children may not be weaponized by one parent against the other parent.
At the Final Hearing
If no alternative form of written agreement can be reached, the judge will decide your divorce terms at the final hearing.
No matter how the divorce terms are reached, the final decree of divorce will typically contain guidance on division of assets/community property, child custody arrangements, and the terms of spousal maintenance. Bear in mind that certain aspects of the divorce arrangements (e.g. visitation rights, child support) can be modified at a later date if circumstances change.
(It’s also important to note that some circumstances, such as a military divorce, will often have additional steps.)
After receiving your decree of divorce, you may feel a myriad of emotions ranging from relief all the way to “divorce trauma” and grief. You may feel overjoyed or overwhelmed (or both), as you jump into your new roles and lifestyle. Make sure to secure the resources that you need to build resilience and acquire new skills to help you thrive in your next season of life.
If you’re looking for even more information about the ins and outs of divorce in Texas, the Texas Law Help website offers a wealth of detailed explanations and guides for families in a variety of scenarios.
Connecting With the Right Lawyer Makes All The Difference
As you journey through each step of the divorce process in Texas, having the right lawyer at your side can remove much of the worry, confusion, and doubt that you may otherwise face.
Kelly Capps is a highly experienced and reputable Texas divorce lawyer. Her breadth of experience includes high-net worth and financially complex divorces, complicated parenting and custody disputes, military divorce, LGBTQ+ divorce and custody disputes, and many other areas of expertise. Don’t begin your divorce process without first reaching out to us and getting a consultation. We’ll provide you with a clear sense of direction and next steps. Follow the link to book a consultation.