How to File for Divorce in Texas
Reaching the decision to end your marriage and face the divorce process is never easy. While most spouses want to minimize their suffering by finalizing the separation as quickly as possible, the long-term consequences of making hasty decisions regarding issues such as the allocation of separate property or child custody can have a monumental impact on your family.
Our experienced attorneys at Mims Ballew Hollingsworth | Fort Worth Family Law can help you make informed decisions and ensure your best interests are being considered and protected. With years of handling divorce proceedings, our team of family lawyers has the right experience and skills to navigate through the complexities of divorce and support you every step of the way.
Filing for Divorce in Texas? Here’s What You Need to Know
Depending on your situation, the divorce process can either be straightforward and reasonably amicable or lengthy and contentious. Knowing the basic steps for filing can give you peace of mind, a greater ability to make smart decisions, and avoid long-term consequences that can quickly become serious burdens. When the decision to seek a divorce is made, the next step is to file.
Preparing your Forms and Filing the Petition
In a divorce, there are many complicated issues that you will need to be prepared for. Getting organized and having the documents at your fingertips can help expedite the process and save you money.
Here are some examples of paperwork to collect and add to your divorce folder:
- Personal records- including your marriage certificate, social security cards, and birth certificates for both spouses and any children. Additionally, you should include any legal agreements you have with your spouse, such as a prenuptial or separation agreement.
- Financial records- including bank statements, tax returns, retirement account information, and a list of monthly expenses.
- A detailed and accurate list of all your assets and debts- including credit cards, valuables, and mortgages.
- If you own a business, you’ll need to collect all financial records, including tax returns, contracts, and financial statements.
- When either you or your spouse decides to pursue a fault-based divorce, gathering evidence to support your claims or defend against your spouse’s claims is crucial. Examples of some types of evidence you should collect include photos and videos in cases of adultery or witness testimonies in case of a child custody battle.
You may claim either a “no-fault” or “fault-based” ground for your divorce in Texas. Grounds for divorce are legally accepted reasons to get a divorce, and your choice can make a big difference in how your case will proceed.
Determining a Ground For Divorce
With a no-fault divorce, you may reach a resolution faster than a fault-based divorce. Additionally, with a no-fault divorce, you don’t need to obtain consent from your spouse to end the marriage.
Grounds for a no-fault divorce in Texas include:
- Insupportability- This means that the marriage is no longer endurable because of conflict or discord between spouses, and there is no reasonable expectation that the spouses will reconcile.
- Living apart without cohabitation for at least three years.
In a fault-based divorce, there is more potential for disagreements, which can make the process more costly and time-consuming. If you claim certain fault grounds, you will need to prove that your spouse was responsible for the end of the marriage.
The following are fault-based grounds for divorce in Texas:
- Abandonment for at least one year.
- Conviction of a felony and imprisonment in any state or federal prison for at least one year
- Confinement in a mental institution
Once you’ve selected the grounds you will list in your divorce papers, you must fill out and submit a petition with the court called the “Original Petition for Divorce,” along with paying the mandatory court fees. You should consult a divorce lawyer if you’re unsure whether to file for a fault or no-fault divorce.
Filing the Divorce Petition
The “Original Petition for Divorce” essentially starts the divorce process. To file for divorce in Texas, you or your spouse must have lived in Texas for at least six months before filing and be a resident of the county where you plan to file for at least 90 days. After submitting the petition to the court clerk in the county where you meet the residency requirement, the clerk will assign a number to the case. Be sure to bring the original and two copies of all forms to the clerk’s office.
Serving the Divorce Papers
Once you (the petitioner) file the initial divorce papers, you must provide your spouse (the respondent) with a legal notice. The simplest way to give the respondent legal notice is by having them fill out and sign a Waiver of Service. The respondent agrees to receive the notice through this waiver and also waives their right to be formally served with divorce papers.
It is important to remember that signing the waiver does not mean the respondent agrees to the allegations in the divorce petition. Additionally, the waiver is only valid if your spouse signs it in front of a notary.
If your spouse is contesting the divorce and not amenable to waiving, you can serve your spouse in one of the following ways:
- Hiring a court-authorized third-party process server
- Have a sheriff constable or another authorized adult deliver the documents
- By registered or verified mail with a return receipt request
- Service by publication or posting
- An alternate method of service, such as email or social media
The initial divorce papers you must serve your spouse with should include a file-stamped copy of the petition, a citation or notice of the divorce proceeding, and copies of any other forms you filed with your Original Petition for Divorce. The petition may be invalidated unless the respondent is notified of the filing.
Responding to the Divorce Papers
If both parties have reached a marital settlement agreement on all legal issues involved in the ending of the marriage, such as the division of community property or child custody, the couple can move forward with an uncontested divorce. The forms and procedures are simplified when you file for an uncontested divorce, making it more likely that you can get through the process with fewer expenses and less stress.
You will have a contested divorce if you or your spouse cannot agree on one or more matters involved in the divorce settlement. Once a divorce is contested, the proceedings become more complicated and will likely be prolonged. The best course of action in a contested divorce is to hire an attorney to guide you through every step of the process.
In a contested divorce, the respondent must file a “Respondent’s Original Answer Form” or “Counter Petition.” Filing an Answer allows your spouse to disagree with any information in the divorce petition. A Counter Petition allows the respondent to state the grounds for filing for divorce and what they would like to request from the court. This divorce form is filed alongside an Answer.
The respondent has twenty days from the service date to file an Answer to your petition.
If the respondent fails to file an Answer or fails to file within the twenty-day period, the court can still award the divorce without their involvement. Unlike other states, however, Texas has a waiting period requirement. Before the court can finalize your divorce, 60 days must have passed between the day you filed the petition. In cases involving domestic or family violence, the court may provide an exception to the waiting period.
The court will be the ultimate decider on issues such as alimony and child custody if you and your spouse cannot reach a deal during the waiting period. Additionally, the court may grant temporary orders regarding child custody, support, and visitation during this time.
The court will also likely encourage alternative resolution methods, such as mediation, in a contested divorce. If mediation is successful, a neutral third party (the mediator) will prepare the document that reflects your agreement.
Before your divorce can be finalized, attending at least one hearing will typically be required. During this hearing, the parties will present evidence to the court on their behalf supporting their rights and interests. The court will then make final decisions on all matters, such as community property, child custody and support arrangements, alimony, and the separation of marital property. If you and your spouse have come to an agreement on all issues, the final hearing may be as simple as answering a few of the judge’s questions before they approve the agreement.
Additionally, in an uncontested divorce where both parties have reached an agreement in writing, the non-filing party may not be required to attend the hearing. If you and your spouse cannot reach a settlement before the hearing, the judge will hear both sides and decide on all relevant issues specific to your case. The final hearing may be set at any time after the 60-day waiting period.
The Final Decree
After the hearing, the judge will sign your proposed Final Decree of Divorce, or if they disagree, they will prepare and sign another decree. After all disputes have been settled and the final divorce decree has been signed, you must take the signed decree and file it with the clerk’s office. Depending on the specifics of your case, the timeline to reach this final step can extend for months. Hiring a family law attorney who can provide you with individualized guidance is advised.
Consult with a Family Law Attorney Today!
With Mims Ballew Hollingsworth | Fort Worth Family Law, you can count on a team of exceptional divorce lawyers who value and prioritize our client’s well-being. We understand that every divorce is unique and strive to provide compassionate and comprehensive legal advice throughout this often complicated process. If you’re contemplating divorce, don’t hesitate to contact us. Complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today.