When Does Texas Law Apply to a Divorce?
In order to file suit for divorce under Texas law, you must meet some minimum legal requirements. First, either the “petitioner” (the one who files for divorce) or the “respondent” (the one who is being divorced) must reside in the state of Texas for at least six months, as well as reside in the county where the divorce is filed for at least 90 days.
Texas is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that a divorce can be granted by a court without finding that either party has been at fault. Instead, at least one of the parties need only indicate that there exist irreconcilable differences, and that there is no possibility of a reconciliation. However, Texas will also grant divorces where one or another party alleges fault, which can include: cruelty, adultery, conviction of a felony, abandonment, living apart for at least three years, or confinement in an institution.
What Procedures Must Be Followed in Suing For Divorce?
A petitioner begins by filing papers with the court. After filing, the petitioner, or his or her attorney, can either mail or hand deliver (in person, or by a process–server) the papers to the spouse.
Once served, the respondent signs a form stating that he or she has received the papers, and that form is also filed with the court. Alternatively, a respondent (or his or her attorney) can sign a form indicating that they waive service, or can file an answer to the papers in court.
Texas has a mandatory minimum of 60 days waiting period before a divorce can be granted. This time period begins when the original papers are filed. However, this does not necessarily mean that the divorce will be finalized 60 days from the filing. In fact, because of the interim steps necessary to the granting of a divorce, finalizing a divorce generally takes longer than 60 days.
The most critical step in this interim period, and which can greatly impact how long it takes before a divorce is finalized, has to do with how the couple resolves a number of issues pertaining to their assets and their responsibilities.
Specifically, these matters include: how the couple intends to divide property (both real and personal); how the couple intends to divide any debt obligations, including tax liabilities; how the couple intends to resolve matters dealing with child custody and support; and how the couple intends to deal with support issues, such as the payment of spousal maintenance, particularly in cases where one spouse lacks earning capacity for one reason or another. In marriages in which there is significant property, significant debt, and young children, these matters can take a significant amount of time and effort to settle.
In addition, if the couple cannot agree on how to manage these same affairs while the divorce is pending, a court may need to hold a hearing and issue Temporary Orders that establish the rights and duties of the spouses until the divorce is final, which may or may not conform to the division of property or responsibilities in the final divorce decree.
Finalizing a Divorce
Once the terms of the divorce are worked out, a divorce decree is drafted that spells out, in an uncontested divorce, a couple’s agreement and, in the case of a contested divorce, the court’s order. The divorce decree is the final order signed in a case, and it establishes a legally enforceable order that divides property and debts; makes provisions for settling tax liability; determines matters related to the conservatorship of children such as custody, payment of child support, and visitation; and makes all other rulings in the case.
Once the parties sign the divorce decree, there is a final, abbreviated hearing, often referred to as a “prove–up.” Once the hearing is completed, and the judge signs the final divorce decree, the divorce is final. Part of that decree may give a spouse the right to use a previous name. However, neither party to a divorce may marry another party before 31 days after the divorce is decreed.
When Should I Hire an Attorney?
As elaborated upon above, even though the procedures in a divorce may seem rather straightforward, divorces can become very complicated, particularly when they involve significant amounts of property, where there may be significant debts involved, where one spouse has significantly greater earning capacity than the other, where there are minor children involved, and so on.
Even in an otherwise amicable and mutually– agreed upon divorce, these matters can become contentious or hard to reconcile between couples, and oftentimes these couples may be overwhelmed by the vast number of matters on which decisions must be made and the practical complications that may be involved in working out an arrangement, particularly if the marriage has lasted a significant amount of time. In addition, a couple may not have the expertise to draft a divorce decree that adequately explains, in legally enforceable language, the terms of their agreement.
Unless a couple is able and willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to educating themselves on Texas divorce law, Texas child custody law, and other relevant matters, it often makes sense for at least one of them to hire a Texas divorce attorney. While some people may balk at the prospect of incurring legal expenses, in some cases, failing to hire an attorney can end up costing more. Legal fees can quickly add up when one spouse or another realizes that he or she failed to resolve an important issue, or where an agreement was not carefully drafted and did not work according to the expectations of one or both of the spouses. In these cases, one spouse may then have to hire an attorney to redraft or reopen a matter that should have been settled, sometimes causing renewed contentiousness.
Austin, Texas Family Law attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm can handle your Texas divorce case. She can work with spouses in uncontested and agreed divorces (that is, not merely where the couple agree upon divorce, but where the couple can work together to establish the terms of the divorce decree), but she is also prepared to go to court to litigate contested divorces. Texas Family Law attorney Daniella Lyttle can also help a spouse with the aftermath of a divorce, such as enforcing terms of a divorce decree, seeking a modification of a decree, or working out child custody matters.