There are many keys to successfully managing divorce in Texas. Among those keys is managing your expectations and understanding the key concepts involved in filing for and obtaining a divorce. Like anything else, to get a divorce in Texas, you have to follow certain protocols and understand the process involved. Getting a divorce does not necessarily mean that you have to become as knowledgeable about the law as your attorney. Still, it does mean that having a basic understanding of Texas family law can be of great help to you and your family.
This is true for several reasons. First, it is easier to run a race when you know how long you have to run for. When we were kids, we hardly ever agreed to erase someone unless we knew where the starting and ending points of the race were. Simply taking off at full speed against a friend was fun at first, but you quickly realized that the racing became more of a labor than recreation without a destination or end goal in mind. As a result, you are much more likely to ask your friend to race you to a certain point.
For the same reason, it is helpful in a divorce to know how long you have to go for and what mile markers and checkpoints to be looking out for during a case. Knowing the basic steps, I would divorce, can help you pace yourself and keep yourself emotionally invested in a case even when it seems like the case may go on forever. Imagine giving up on a case only to find out that the end was in sight. I have seen many people go through a divorce without understanding the process, only to lose hope or interest in a case midway. If only they had understood the steps of the case, they could have better prepared and known that the end was sooner than they would have anticipated.
This brings us to the first element of today’s blog posts that I wanted to discuss. Namely, your attorney acts as the first point of contact for you in a divorce; it is the primary teacher who spells the steps of the case. With that said, let’s talk about the importance of hiring the right attorney for your case and how to identify what sort of lawyer you need to help you during your particular divorce. It is important to understand that representing yourself in a divorce is possible, though not always ideal, considering all the different factors of your case. If you are unclear on the steps and timeline of your divorce, then hiring an attorney is a good place to start the learning process.
What does it mean to hire the right divorce attorney?
You can file for and obtain a divorce in Texas without being represented by an attorney. However, the circumstances under which you could benefit from not having an attorney are minimal. Typically, I will tell people that unless they have no children and have very little property involved in their case that hiring an attorney is a good idea. Otherwise, there is too much at stake when it comes to divorce for you to go at it alone. You may feel like the stakes are low for your particular case, but you should at least reach out to a handful of lawyers before filing your case to learn something about the process involved.
If you proceed with hiring an attorney, you should look for a lawyer who has the heart of a teacher. Many attorneys neglect this part of the job, and that is a shame, in my opinion. Most people in your position of pondering a divorce have gained a certain level of knowledge about a case from friends or family members. Perhaps you’ve gone online to resources like this blog post and obtained information that way. There is no better source for learning about divorce than directly from a practicing family law attorney.
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free of charge consultations six days a week. In those consultations, we do quite a bit of listening. We want to learn your particular circumstances to give you relevant and useful information about your life and case. Family law cases are incredibly fact-specific. This means that while the Texas Family Code is important and will impact your case, a judge would be likely to use their judgment in addition to the family code when deciding about your case.
All of this is to say that having an attorney who can explain the steps of a divorce, walk you through how those steps may impact your life, and then discuss with you how to plan for each of those steps is important. This is the first place that you should begin learning about how the law interacts with your life as far as divorce is concerned. You can tell a lot about an attorney based on how they explain complicated issues to you as a client. Based on how these issues are explained to you, it is possible to determine how well the lawyer can discuss similarly complicated information to a judge, for instance.
File an Original Petition for Divorce
The first official step in filing for divorce in Texas is to file an original divorce petition. The original petition for divorce in your case is not an incredibly detailed document, but it is important nonetheless. The original petition for divorce goes through the essential components of your case. First, it establishes that you are asking for a divorce from your spouse. You will specify the date of your marriage and the date that you all became separated. You will need to identify whether or not any separate or Community property is owned by either party in what will be determined during the divorce.
Next, you will identify any children you have with one another under the age of 18. This will give an idea to the court of what type of subject matter will be in play for your case. For instance, a case changes quite a bit depending upon whether or not you have minor children. If you have minor children, then child custody issues will be relevant to a case that greatly expands the amount of information you will have to negotiate upon. It is critical for the court to know all the relevant circumstances of your case in a general sense before the process begins. You will likely provide their first names in the last four digits of each of their Social Security numbers for identification purposes.
If you are filing for divorce and alleging any fault grounds for filing, you must specify them in your original petition for divorce. Fault grounds are specific reasons why the divorce is being filed. Examples of fault grounds include adultery, abandonment, domestic violence, or financial infidelity. These are general areas where you can assert a specific fault ground contained in the Texas family code. Please note that it is not necessary two site-specific fault grounds when filing for divorce. However, specifying a fault ground for divorce can impact your ability to sole custody of your children or be awarded a disproportionate share of your community estate, for example.
If you seek to be named the primary conservator of your children, you will specify this in your original petition for divorce. Likewise, any other relief that you are requesting from the court should be noted in your original petition as well. A client will often ask if we can request attorney’s fees from their spouse as part of the divorce process. While attorney’s fees are typically only awarded in limited circumstances, almost certainly, your attorney will request them in the original divorce petition.
If you are served with a divorce petition- file an Answer.
Let’s flip the script a tad and assume that you are the spouse who is not filing for divorce. Rather, you are going about your life as normal and are surprised to see someone at the end of your driveway one day approach you with a pile of paperwork. Contained in that paperwork is the Original Petition of Divorce we just finished discussing in the section before this one. As soon as you catch your breath, you begin to realize that your spouse has filed for divorce from you. Where this leaves you, and then you have no idea at the moment. What you do know is that you need to do something and cannot sit idly by.
The next step in filing for divorce once the original petition has been filed is for the responding party to file an answer. And the answer is the name associated with the first pleading file by the responding party. The actual document itself is called the respondent’s original answer. This document will generally respond to the allegations made in the original divorce petition and is essentially your opportunity to tell the court you are participating in the process. Most of the time, the answer is even shorter than the original divorce petition.
Along with an original divorce petition, you may choose to file what is known as a counter-petition for divorce. A counter-petition for divorce allows you as the respondent to allege your fault grounds for the divorce having been filed. this is important for you to do as a respondent. It would be best if you did not allow your spouse to allege particular fault grounds and not allow yourself to do the same. Rather, the counter-petition allows you to represent your interests and causes your spouse to have to defend certain positions, as well.
An answer must be filed within a certain period after being served. If you fail to file an answer, your spouse can get the divorce and Annie’s court order based on the terms they are drawn up. You do not want to put yourself in a position where your spouse holds all the cards to create a court order. Therefore, if you are the responding party, then you must file an answer before this deadline. Please note that filing a counter-petition but not an answer does not count as meeting the deadline.
Once a petition has been filed and an answer received, then the divorce has truly begun in earnest. At that stage, you are known as being in temporary orders. Temporary orders are the orders that will dictate the terms of your divorce until your case comes to an end. Subjects like temporary child support, temporary custody, temporary spousal support, and general rules of engagement with your spouse during the case will be covered in the temporary orders phase.
There are two ways for you to achieve temporary orders in your case. The first is to mediate your case with the air Co-parent. This is the most common way to accomplish this step in the process. Despite what you may believe based on friends, family, and the media’s interpretation of family law cases, most family cases are settled out of court rather than in front of a judge. This means that you are more likely to find that you and your spouse are tasked with working together to accomplish an end to various stages of your case rather than working to outcompete one another in the mind of a family court judge.
The alternative would be to submit yourselves to the process of going through a temporary order hearing. Do not let the word hearing throw you off. Rather than think of this step as a hearing, it is more accurate to think of it as a trial. The results are in many ways as important as a trial because what is determined in a temporary orders hearing will likely be mirrored for final orders. Secondly, you and your attorney will be submitting evidence, questioning witnesses, and conducting yourselves as if you were going through a trial. For that reason, many attorneys referred to temporary orders hearing as a mini-trial.
After a hearing, the family court judge will render decisions in your case. Those decisions will be typed into order by either your attorney or that of your spouse. Once all parties and the attorneys have signed the order, the judge will do so as well. These are the orders that will govern you and your family throughout the family law case. These orders may be modified to an extent but more than likely, what you see in these temporary orders is what will be in effect to ensure that you and your spouse are kept in control during the case.
The final step of the process of a divorce is the most important. Negotiating final orders will be a tall task for you and your attorney. Unlike temporary orders where you know there will be a next step in the case, final orders alright all crucial to getting right the first period; yes, you can go back and renegotiate and modify final orders in a post-divorce lawsuit. However, it is not wise to assume that you will change what you have agreed to in the final orders negotiation phase in the future. Rather, you should attempt to negotiate as well as you can during the divorce itself, so there is no need to come back in the future.
Final orders require you and your attorney to anticipate the needs of your case now and in the future. This may be easier said than done, given the difficulties of knowing just how your life may change moving into the future. Well, nobody can perfectly predict the future; you have to be able to anticipate what your life for choirs in the future to be able to negotiate it for it in the present. Working with your attorney to anticipate how your life may change is crucial to achieving the best results in final orders for you and your family.
Whether your final orders have been achieved through negotiation or a contested trial, the same process we saw with temporary orders repeats itself for final orders. Namely, that the attorney for either you or your Co-parent will need to draft orders based on a mediated settlement agreement or judge’s orders from a trial, having orders that are clear and accurately reflective of the orders or mediated settlement agreement, it’s probably the most important part of the entire divorce process.
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 consultations 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 and how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case period.