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A “How-To” Guide to Divorce in Texas

Divorce Texas Style: A How to Divorce Guide in the Longhorn State

    

Written by Susan E. Oehl, Esq. Partner @ Jenkins & Kamin LLP

When you find yourself staring down the barrel of the end of your marriage, it is normal to experience a plethora of emotions.

Agony? Yes! Anger? You bet. Fear? No doubt.


You are about to make one of the most significant decisions of your life: Divorce.

You’ve ripped off the proverbial band-aid that has been keeping your world intact for months or maybe even years. So, now what?

We all know that knowledge is power, so I’m here to provide you with some of that empowering knowledge when it comes to your divorce. My hope is that this post helps you move forward with the divorce process with confidence.

5 Of the Most Common Questions About Divorce:

  1. How long will it take?
  2. How much will it cost?
  3. How do I get started?
  4. Do my spouse and I both need attorneys?
  5. How do I finalize the divorce?

Let’s tackle each question one baby step at a time, shall we?

How long will it take?

In Texas, a divorce can be final 60 days after the suit was filed. That said, a majority of cases get mired in the adversarial litigation model. According to Lawyers.com, the average duration of a divorce in Texas is 12.5 months. If that statistic makes you raise an eyebrow or curl up in the fetal position, I have a more palatable alternative for you to consider: Parties-Only Family Law Mediation. This process is designed to assist parties in settling their case amicably at either a single meeting, or a series of shorter meetings. If you do your homework beforehand (more on this later), your divorce could easily be settled in 8 hours or less!

How much will it cost?

Over 95% of divorce cases are settled before the parties make the trip down to the courthouse. Good news, right? The key is finding a way to settle your divorce before thousands of dollars are spent on legal fees. The average cost of a divorce in Texas is $15,600. When kids are involved, that average cost jumps to $23,500. If you opt out of litigation for mediation, you will pay one fee to a mediator, ranging between $1,000 for a half day or $2,800 for a full day. Plus, there’s a bonus! The full-day mediation fee also covers the cost of lunch!

How do I get started?

As it turns out, the Texas Supreme Court has already done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You can access simple forms online for free that help guide you from start to finish in your divorce. The folks at It’s Over Easy have made the forms available on their website, as well as a host of other resources to help you navigate through this often-difficult transition. Visit itsovereasy.com to get a flavor of what’s out there! From therapists, to realtors, to trusted and skilled mediators in your jurisdiction, itsovereasy.com provides a comprehensive index for parties who are trying to approach divorce more amicably and intelligently.

Once you’ve done this initial research, filing a petition for divorce is the first step in officially initiating the divorce process. After filing the petition with the clerk in your county, you can then start your “divorce homework.” This includes, preparing a monthly budget statement (also called a Financial Information Statement), and completing an inventory of your marital estate. Perhaps this is the first time in awhile you have sat down and contemplated what you have and don’t have. Keep ripping off that band-aid, and I assure you, your efforts will be worth the time and agony. Gathering financial statements and tax returns from the previous 3 years will be the best way to be informed about what is negotiable within the divorce.

If you have kids, create an honest calendar or timeline of the past six months that highlights the roles you and your spouse have played in daily parenting tasks. This will help you appreciate what you are requesting for parenting time when the divorce is final. Parenting time is always up for negotiation and can be mutually agreed upon between you and your soon-to-be co-parent. Even if you both come to an agreement, you should still include a default possession schedule in the final agreement, just in case you and your co-parent ever start running low on friendliness and flexibility in the years to come.

Do my spouse and I both need to hire attorneys?

Despite what you’ve probably heard, you don’t always need an attorney to get a divorce. Typically, an attorney is hired because the parties want to be sure their agreement addresses each of their concerns and that the resulting court order is properly drafted.

There are other options though. Parties-only mediation, for example, can provide a faster and less expensive conclusion, even if you and your spouse are struggling to find common ground. The mediation process offers both parties an efficient and focused way to obtain the information they need to make an informed decision in finalizing their case. A family law attorney or mediator will help you and your spouse create a summary of your agreements. You will sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) at the conclusion of mediation, locking in the terms on which you and your spouse have agreed. There are many benefits to getting an MSA. First off, it brings an immediate sense of closure to the parties. There is also certainty about the terms on which you and your spouse have agreed because the MSA is “binding and irrevocable” once it is signed--no room for buyer’s remorse or second-guessing here! Furthermore, the mediation process and MSA are confidential and don’t require you to litigate your personal and private life in court.

There are a few common mistakes that can come up in the negotiation process between you and your spouse, especially when it comes to property division and child-related provisions. While the mediator cannot offer up legal advice, they can make suggestions about the terms you should include in your MSA that will make your agreement as complete and workable as possible. The bottom line is your mediator will be a helpful guide to make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s at this crucial phase of your case.

Feeling that big sigh of relief coming on? You’re almost there…

How do I finalize the divorce?

An experienced family law attorney or mediator can assist both parties in preparing the final decree of divorce that will be approved by the judge at the end of the case. The decree is the judgment you and your spouse will submit to the court to memorialize your agreements in a legally sufficient form. If you have a binding MSA, it is imperative that the decree mirrors the terms set out in that agreement, or you run the risk of the judge rejecting the decree.

Ultimately, the judge cannot disapprove of your decree if it is based on an MSA. You and your spouse retain most of the control over your decree, but the judge is tasked with accepting or rejecting its form. Utilize the online forms and other available resources on itsovereasy.com when preparing the decree to avoid any speed bumps once you are ready to (finally) wrap up your case.

There’s an old adage in the wild world of family law: Divorce is expensive, but freedom is priceless. With lots of patience and some preparation, you can avoid the financial and emotional pitfalls on your way to the next chapter of your life!

To learn more about divorce in Texas, check out www.itsovereasy.com, or contact Susan Oehl at soehl@jenkinskamin.com

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