Divorce in Texas: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect

Divorce in Texas: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect

by Jim Mueller

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943886760
Publisher: Addicus Books
Publication date: 01/01/2018
Series: Divorce In
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 260
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Jim Mueller is a managing partner with Verner Brumley McCurley Muller Parker and is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Separation in family and a member of the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists. His practice concentrates on complex divorce matters, high asset property division and contested custody litigation. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standards. Mr. Mueller resides in Dallas, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Understanding the Divorce Process

At a time when your life can feel like it's in utter chaos, sometimes the smallest bit of predictability can bring a sense of comfort. The outcome of many aspects of your divorce may be unknown, driving up your fear and anxiety. But there is one part of your divorce that does have some measure of predictability, and that is the divorce process itself.

Most divorces proceed in a step-by-step manner. Despite the uniqueness of your divorce, you can generally count on one phase of your divorce following the next. Sometimes just realizing you are completing stages and moving forward with your divorce can reassure you that it won't go on forever.

Develop a basic understanding of the divorce process. This will lower your anxiety when your attorney starts talking about "temporary orders," "depositions," or "going to trial" and you feel your heart start pounding in fear. It can reduce your frustration about the length of the process because you understand why each step is needed. It will support you to begin preparing for what comes next.

Most importantly, understanding the divorce process will make your experience of the entire divorce easier. Who wouldn't prefer that?

1.1 Must I have an attorney to get a divorce in Texas?

You are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce in Texas. A person who proceeds in a legal matter without a lawyer is referred to as being pro se (pronounced pro-say), on one's own. However, there is a saying that if you represent yourself in court, you have a fool for a client. If your case involves children, alimony, significant property, or debts, you should avoid proceeding on your own.

If you are considering proceeding without an attorney, at a minimum have an initial consultation with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. You may have certain rights or obligations about which you are unaware. Meeting with a lawyer can help you decide whether to proceed on your own.

1.2 What is my first step?

Find a law firm that handles divorces as a regular part of its law practice. The best recommendations come from people who have knowledge of a lawyer's experience and reputation. If possible, use a lawyer who is board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Even if you are not ready to file for divorce, call to schedule an appointment right away to obtain information about protecting yourself and your children. Even if you are not planning to file for divorce, your spouse might be. It only takes one person to file for a divorce in Texas.

Ask what documents you should bring to your initial consultation. Make a list of your questions to bring to your first meeting. Start making plans for how you will pay your attorney to begin work on your case.

1.3 Is Texas a "no-fault" state or do I need grounds for a divorce?

Texas, like most states, is a "no-fault" divorce state. This means that neither you nor your spouse is required to prove that the other is "at fault" in order to be granted a divorce. Factors such as infidelity, cruelty, or abandonment are not necessary to receive a divorce in Texas. Rather, to have a marriage dissolved, it is necessary to prove that "the marriage has become insupportable because of a discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation." The testimony of either you or your spouse is likely to be sufficient evidence for the court to rule that the marriage should be dissolved.

1.4 Do I have to get divorced in the same state I married in?

No. Regardless of where you were married, you may seek a divorce in Texas if the jurisdictional requirements of residency are met.

1.5 How long must I have lived in Texas to get a divorce in the state?

Either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Texas for at least six months and a resident of the county in which you file for at least ninety days to meet the residency requirements for a divorce in Texas.

If neither party meets the residency requirements, other legal options are available for your protection. Talk to your attorney about other options if you have concerns about your safety or the safety of your child.

1.6 My spouse has told me she will never "give me" a divorce. Can I get one in Texas anyway?

Yes. Texas does not require that your spouse "agree to" a divorce. If your spouse threatens to "not give you a divorce," know that in Texas this is likely to be an idle threat without any basis in the law.

Under Texas law, to obtain a divorce you must be able to prove that your marriage has become insupportable because of a discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation. Evidence of this will be your testimony on the witness stand. In short, it is not necessary to have your spouse agree to the divorce or to allege the specific difficulties that arose during the marriage to obtain a divorce in Texas.

1.7 What are the steps taken in a divorce action?

The divorce process in Texas typically involves the following steps.

If you are initiating the divorce:

• Obtain a referral for a lawyer.

• Schedule an appointment with an attorney.

• Prepare questions and gather necessary documents for an initial consultation.

• Meet for an initial consultation with an attorney.

• Pay the attorney a retainer and sign a retainer agreement.

• Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.

• Take other actions as advised by your attorney, such as freezing social media accounts (not deleting them).

• Attorney prepares the original petition for divorce for your review and signature.

• Attorney files the original petition for divorce with the clerk of the court.

• Attorney has the original petition, citation, and notice served on the respondent.

• If interim relief (such as temporary child support, spousal support, or attorney fees) is appropriate, attorney prepares temporary orders motion for your review and signature, files with the court, obtains court date, and serves pleadings on respondent.

If you have been served with divorce papers:

• Obtain a referral for a lawyer.

• Schedule an appointment with an attorney.

• Prepare questions and gather necessary documents for an initial consultation.

• Meet for an initial consultation with an attorney.

• Pay the attorney a retainer and sign a retainer agreement.

• Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.

• Take other actions as advised by your attorney, such as freezing social media accounts (not deleting them).

• Attorney prepares a response, usually an answer, general denial, or counterpetition, to the original petition for divorce for your review and signature.

• Attorney files your response with the clerk of the court "by 10:00 A.M. on the Monday next after the expiration of twenty days after the date of service."

• If you are served with requests for interim relief, attorney prepares your response to these requests.

After an action has been commenced and the response filed:

• With the assistance of your attorney, you need to prepare a financial information statement and begin compiling an Inventory & Appraisement (income and expense statement and preliminary schedule of assets and debts).

• Negotiations begin regarding temporary custody and visitation, child and spousal support, payment of community obligations, and attorney fees.

• Attorney prepares motions for any requests for temporary relief not previously made.

• Court holds hearing(s) held on requests for temporary relief.

• Either the parties reach an agreement or the court issues temporary orders.

• Temporary order is prepared by one attorney, approved as to form by other attorney, and submitted to the judge for signature. Oftentimes, the clients will sign as well.

• Both sides conduct discovery — the process designed to obtain information regarding all relevant facts, and commence the process to exchange valuations of all assets, including expert opinions if needed.

• You confer with your attorney to review facts, identify issues, assess strengths and weaknesses of case, review strategy, and develop a settlement proposal.

• Spouses, with the support of their attorneys, attempt to reach agreement through written proposals, mediation, settlement conferences, or other forms of negotiation.

If you reach an agreement on all issues, then:

• One attorney prepares an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce according to the terms of the agreement.

• Both parties and their attorneys sign the agreement and all necessary paperwork.

• Final closing documents that are necessary to effectuate the terms of the agreement, including the transfer of property, are drafted simultaneously with the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.

• The Agreed Final Decree of Divorce is filed with the court and you and your attorney attend a brief prove-up hearing before the judge.

• Judgment is entered and you will be divorced.

If you are unable to reach an agreement on all issues, then:

• Your attorney completes all necessary discovery to bring the case to its trial-ready point.

• Your attorney requests a trial date or pretrial date, if required, from the court.

• If agreement has been reached on any issues, your attorney may prepare a partial settlement agreement to be reviewed and executed by the attorneys and clients. All other issues are set for trial.

• You work with your attorney to prepare your case for trial.

• Your attorney prepares witnesses, trial exhibits, legal research on contested issues, pretrial motions, trial briefs, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, opening statements, witness subpoenas, and closing argument.

• You meet with your attorney for final trial preparation.

• Trial is held.

• The judge, or jury, issues a ruling of the issues tried before the court.

• Sometimes a judge will take a matter under advisement and will issue a written ruling at a later date.

• The attorneys draft a Final Decree of Divorce according to the terms of the ruling.

• Both parties and their attorneys sign the Final Decree of Divorce.

• If the attorneys or clients disagree on the language in the Final Decree of Divorce, the attorney files a motion to enter and requests a hearing before the court to make the final decision and sign an order.

Your posttrial rights are discussed in the section on appeals.

1.8 Can I divorce my spouse in Texas if he or she lives in another state?

Provided you have met the residency requirements for living in Texas, you can file for divorce here even if your spouse lives in another state.

Discuss with your attorney the facts that will need to be proven and the steps necessary to give your spouse proper notice to ensure that the court will have jurisdiction over your spouse. Your attorney can counsel you on whether it is possible to proceed with the divorce.

1.9 How can I divorce my spouse when I don't know where this person lives now?

Texas law allows you to proceed with a divorce even if you do not know the current address of your spouse.

First, take action to attempt to locate your spouse. Contact family members, friends, former coworkers, or anyone else who might know your spouse's whereabouts.

Utilize resources on the Internet that are designed to help locate people.

Let your attorney know of the efforts you have made to attempt to find your spouse. Inform your lawyer of your spouse's last known address, as well as any work address or other address where this person may be found. Once your attorney attempts to give notice to your spouse without success, it is possible to ask the court to proceed with the divorce by giving notice through publication in a newspaper.

While your divorce may be granted following service of notice by publication in a newspaper, you may not be able to get other court orders such as those for child support or alimony without giving personal notice to your spouse. Talk to your attorney about your options and rights if you don't know where your spouse is living.

1.10 I just moved to a different county. Do I have to file in the county where my spouse lives?

You may file your divorce action either in the county where you reside, provided you have resided in that county for at least ninety days, or the county where your spouse resides, if he or she has lived in that county for at least ninety days.

1.11 I immigrated to Texas. Will my immigration status stop me from getting a divorce?

If you meet the residency requirements for divorce in Texas, you should be able to get a divorce here regardless of your immigration status. Talk to your immigration lawyer about the likelihood of a divorce leading to immigration challenges.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, tell your lawyer. You may be eligible for a change in your immigration status under the federal Violence Against Women Act.

1.12 I want to get divorced in my Indian tribal court. What do I need to know?

Each tribal court has its own laws governing divorce. Requirements for residency, grounds for divorce, and the laws regarding property, alimony, and children can vary substantially from state law. Some tribes have very different laws governing the grounds for your divorce, removal of children from the home, and cohabitation.

Contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about the law in your tribal court for legal advice on pursuing a divorce in your tribal court or on the requirements for recording a divorce obtained in state court with the clerk of the tribal court.

1.13 Is there a waiting period for a divorce in Texas?

Yes. Texas has a mandatory sixty-day waiting period. This waiting period begins on the day that the original petition for divorce is filed with the court. It does not wait to begin until your spouse is determined to have been given legal notice of the divorce.

1.14 What is a divorce petition?

A divorce petition, also referred to as an original petition for divorce (see sample in Appendix) is a document signed by the person filing for divorce, the petitioner, and filed with the clerk of the court to initiate the divorce process. The divorce petition will set forth in very general terms what the petitioner is asking the court to order.

1.15 My spouse said she filed for divorce last week, but my lawyer says there's nothing on file at the courthouse. What does it mean to "file for divorce?"

When lawyers use the term "filing" they are ordinarily referring to filing a legal document at the courthouse, such as delivering a petition for divorce to the clerk of the court through the e-file system. Sometimes a person who has hired a lawyer to begin a divorce action uses the phrase "I've filed for divorce," although no papers have yet been taken to the courthouse to start the legal process. Speak with your lawyers about the benefits of being the first person to file the petition for divorce.

1.16 If we both want a divorce, does it matter who files?

It depends. In the eyes of the court, the petitioner (the party who files the original petition for divorce initiating the legal process of the divorce) and the respondent (the other spouse) are not seen differently simply by virtue of which party filed.

Your attorney may advise you to file first or to wait until your spouse files, depending upon the overall strategy for your case and your circumstances. For example, if there is a concern that your spouse will begin transferring assets upon learning about your plans for divorce, your attorney might advise you to seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) to protect against such an action, without giving prior notice to your spouse.

However, if you are separated from your spouse but have a beneficial temporary arrangement, your attorney may counsel you to wait for your spouse to file.

Allow your attorney to support you in making the decision about whether and when to initiate the legal process by filing an original petition for divorce. Depending on your case, it may be an advantage or disadvantage to being the first party to file.

1.17 Can I stop the newspaper from publishing notice of the filing or granting of my divorce?

Documents filed with the court, such as a divorce petition and any subsequent court filings, are a matter of public record. Newspapers have a right to access this information, and many newspapers publish this information as a matter of routine.

In some cases, a divorce file may be kept private, referred to as being "sealed" or "under seal" if the court orders it.

1.18 Is there a way to avoid embarrassing my spouse and not have a private process server or the sheriff serve him with the divorce papers at his workplace?

Yes. Talk to your lawyer about the option of having your spouse sign a document known as a waiver of service (see sample in Appendix). A waiver of service is a document in which an individual acknowledges the receipt of an original petition for divorce and can choose to avoid the embarrassment and hassle of being personally served with the papers by a private process server (someone specifically hired by the firm and authorized by the court to deliver court papers), sheriff, or constable. The document also provides the opportunity to waive the right to be notified of any further hearings in the case, but this is rarely done and should not be done without consulting with an attorney first.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Divorce in Texas"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jim Mueller.
Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements,
Introduction,
1 Understanding the Divorce Process,
2 Coping with Stress during the Divorce Process,
3 Working with an Attorney,
4 Attorney's Fees and Costs,
5 The Discovery Process,
6 Mediation, Negotiation, Collaborative Divorce, and Cooperative Divorce,
7 Emergency: When You Fear Your Spouse,
8 Child Custody,
9 Child Support,
10 Alimony and Spousal Maintenance,
11 Division of Property,
12 Benefits: Insurance, Retirement, and Pensions,
13 Division of Debts,
14 Taxes,
15 Going to Court,
16 The Appeals Process,
In Closing,
Appendix,
Resources,
Glossary,
About the Author,

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