Have you ever thought something in your life was over with when it wasn’t? Maybe you ran a 5K race intern what you thought was the final corner before the finish line only to find out that you had another quarter mile to go? Or maybe you and your team at work thought that a particular project or assignment was over with only to see your boss heap another pile of work on your desks? It can be a de fighting experience to think that’s something was over with only to find that there is more work to be done. 

Many people who go through a divorce case end up having similar questions about their experiences in the family law world. An important question that many people ask towards the end of their case that should have been asked at the beginning is if there’s a family law matter is over when a certain event occurs. I’ve had people ask me if the divorce is over after a divorce trial, mediation, and even after temporary order hearings. With so much going on in a family law case like a divorce I can understand how you may not have considered when the end of your case was going to be given the sheer number of distractions that are available within a divorce. 

In today’s blog post I would like to share with you some information on when you will know your divorce is final. The answer may surprise you in that divorce has many false endings that may lead you to believe your case was over when in fact it was not. Rather than have your eyes and heart set on an end that surely isn’t the end let’s talk through what it takes for your divorce to be done in a legal sense and what events will lead to the end of your case. 

Is your divorce final after you and your spouse have completed negotiations? 

Some divorces end with you and your spouse negotiating the terms of your case regarding child custody and your Community property division. If you and your spouse have a good relationship and are capable of working out solutions together to any problems that are apparent in your case then you all probably will not need a trial or mediation to put you within striking distance of finality to your case. You all may be entirely capable of working through your problems together and arriving at solutions that benefit you and your family without needing much assistance from anyone else. If this is the case you should cut yourself lucky to be in that kind of position. 

However, you should not consider your case as good as done at this stage. the reality is that just because you and your spouse have settled on the issues of your case doesn’t mean your case is finalized quite yet. You should take an opportunity to review what you all have agreed to make sure that there will not be any additional issues that need to be raised later on in your case. It would be a shame for you and your spouse to have worked through all of the issues of your case only to find there are outstanding issues that yet have been determined. 

To avoid putting yourself in this type of situation I would recommend that you work with an experienced family law attorney for your divorce. Even if you fully expect to be able to negotiate a settlement directly with your spouse for this case it is still a very good idea to be able to have an attorney to draft paperwork and make sure that all of the issues of your case had been settled before finalizing the case with the judge. Hiring Anne experienced family law attorney is a short-term investment into your long-term future. Do not disregard the importance of having an attorney at least review your final paperwork before believing your case to be over with. 

There is your first clue when it comes to figuring out when your divorce will be final. When we start to discuss the final paperwork of a divorce that is when we know but you are within striking distance of your divorce is over with. An oral agreement or series of agreements with your spouse do not mean that your case is final. Additionally, even written agreements, like a mediated settlement agreement, do not mean that you can go on cruise control with the mistaken belief that your divorce is final. 

Is your divorce final after you and your spouse have attended mediation? 

In a typical divorce, there are two mediation sessions that you can expect to go to. The first mediation session occurs towards the beginning or middle of your case in covers temporary orders. Temporary orders will give you in your spouse marching orders that you need to complete your case and live your lives as divorcing spouses. The thing about mediation is that it has a feel of finality to it. I have had more than one client ask me if temporary orders mediation can be substituted for final orders mediation. 

The answer to that question is that, even though temporary orders mediation feels very formal, it covers only the duration of your divorce. You and your spouse will have to return for final orders mediation to move your case along towards a conclusion. When you get divorced you will have an opportunity to either work with your spouse in mediation and complete your case or see your case through to a trial where a judge will decide the issues for you. It is recommended that you work as hard as you can to settle your case in mediation rather than rely upon the decision-making abilities of a family court judge. 

Final orders mediation will cover topics related to child custody and division of your community estate. The result of final orders mediation could be that you and your spouse settle every issue in your case and have no need to go to a trial. That is the desired result. Somewhere in the middle would be a divorce mediation that results in settlements on several issues but one or two issues may still be outstanding. In that case, you could go to trial on those when I one or two issues and have a relatively short trial with the judge. 

On the complete, another end of the spectrum would be final orders mediation where you and your spouse settled no issues and therefore required a full-fledged trial. For most people, this would be a worst-case scenario given how successful mediation is from a statistical perspective for most people who go through the process. I find that nearly 90% of divorces settle in mediation and therefore do not require a trial. Sometimes the circumstances of a case, issues regarding your children, or even the personalities of you or your spouse may make a trial more likely than not. If you have specific questions about the likelihood that your case will go to trial please contact one of our experienced family law attorneys today and we will be happy to discuss that issue with you. 

Assuming that your case does settle in mediation a mediated settlement agreement would be the result of your series of negotiations. The mediated settlement agreement contains all of the settled upon provisions of mediation and stands as the basis for any final orders that will be drafted by either your attorney or your spouse’s attorney. This mediated settlement agreement will be signed by you, your spouse, your attorney, your spouse’s attorney, and the mediator. It certainly looks and feels like a legal document. The question is: is this the final paperwork you need to complete your divorce and have it be final? 

The reality is that, although you were getting close to having a finalized divorce at this stage, a mediated settlement agreement is not the final paperwork you need for a divorce. As I alluded to a moment ago one of the attorneys will be drafting final orders off of what is stated in your mediated settlement agreement but the mediated settlement agreement is not in and of itself the final paperwork that you are seeking. He will still need to press on towards a hopeful conclusion to your divorce that incorporates the mediated settlement agreement but is yet more formalized. 

Is your divorce finalized after a trial? 

The event that I think most people believe finalizes a divorce is a trial. This is the event that most everyone familiar with divorce sees on television and movie screens. Going to court and seeing your spouse across the courtroom can be a dramatic and nerve-wracking experience. There is so much formality to a courtroom experience like a trial that I can understand why many people believe that it is the final stage of a divorce. However, you should know that even the end of a trial does not result in the final stage of your divorce.

I am relatively sure that everyone reading this blog post has at least an idea of what a trial is. A trial is a situation where you and your attorney can submit evidence to a judge and offer testimony to further your ability to convince the judge to grant you certain types of relief. Your spouse and their attorney will be attempting to do the very same thing. Once all testimony is given and all evidence is admitted into the record the judge will be able to issue rulings on any issues that were not decided before the trial and mediation. Those rulings will become orders that you and your spouse will be following after your divorce is finalized. 

There’s that word! We just used the word-final to describe something related to a trial period so why isn’t the trial the end of your case? Well, the fact is that while a divorce trial feels like the end of the case it is not. When you and your spouse have gotten to the end of your divorce trial that means you are getting close to the final stage of your divorce. However, you all still have to get the rulings from the judge and put them in writing. The process of drafting, reviewing, and then signing the final decree of divorce is truly the final stage of your divorce case. Let’s conclude today’s blog post by discussing this final stage of your divorce and how best to approach it. 

Drafting, signing in filing the final decree of divorce: the final stage of your case 

When you have either completed mediation or a trial that means you are oh so close to the very end of your divorce. Once you have settlement terms or ruling trim a judge it will be the job of one of your attorneys to take those rulings and put them down on paper. The rulings or settlement terms must become orders that all parties and the judge can sign off on period until then, your case is not finalized. This can be one of the most frustrating stages of a divorce given how close you are to the finish line. it can be excruciating to have to wait and review multiple drafts associated with this final decree of divorce but I can tell you that it is very important for you to do so. 

You could have negotiated the best outcome for yourself possible in your time at mediation but that doesn’t matter one bit unless the terms of your mediated settlement agreement are reflected accurately in the final decree of divorce. For that reason, you and your attorney must spend a great deal of time reviewing the ruling from the judge or the mediated settlement agreement to best ensure that your orders mirror them perfectly. This can be as much art as science in that you will be held responsible for understanding and then following through with these orders. If an order is not clear then neither you nor your spouse can be responsible for having performed that order. 

This should matter a great deal to you.  for one, imagine that you are set to receive child support and spousal maintenance from your spouse after the divorce. This all sounds well and good but there is no guarantee that your orders will be enforceable if your spouse does not meet their obligation to do so. Therefore, the orders contained in your final decree of divorce must be clear and unambiguous. Any language that is not clear or unambiguous is likely not enforceable.

When you get into a position where your final decree of divorce is held to be unenforceable in many important regards this can be one of the most deflating feelings that a person can experience after having gone through a difficult divorce. The way to avoid doing so is to make sure that your attorney is going over the orders with a fine-tooth comb and that you are doing the same. Do not rely upon your attorney to perform this work for you. Ultimately these are your court orders in your responsibility to make sure they read the way that they are supposed to. 

Once the orders are clear, unambiguous incorrect then you need to make sure that they contain all the provisions agreed to mediation or rule the pond by the judge. It’s not every day that provisions are left out of final decrees of divorce but it does happen. There are ways to argue back into a case to add them to your final decree of divorce but it is not easy or guaranteed for you to be able to do so. Therefore, before signing your name on anything you should make sure that the document is correct and complete. 

The final decree of divorce will be signed by you, your attorney, your spouse, your spouse’s attorney, and ultimately the judge. Typically a short hearing before the judge is called a prove-up hearing will be held in which one party and their attorney will appear before the judge for a quick hearing to allow the judge to review your order. This hearing is largely a formality if all the procedures have been followed and all documents have been turned into the court correctly. Once the judge signs their name to the order your divorce is final. You should order officially certified copies of the final decree of divorce for your records and from there your case is done and over with. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.