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The 6 Steps of the Texas Divorce Process

    

For many spouses, the most daunting aspect of moving on is the divorce process itself. You may be wondering what the Texas divorce process entails. 

Below are the 6 main steps you can expect to go through—from the filing of your petition in a Texas court to receiving your final decree from the court.  

The 6 Steps of the Texas Divorce Process

Step 1: Grounds for Divorce

Before you submit your divorce petition to the district court, first you are going to decide which grounds you will claim in your divorce papers. A ground is essentially the justification you are giving the court for the marriage’s dissolution.

Under Texas law, to obtain a divorce you must select and prove at least one ground in order for the district court to grant the divorce. The Texas Family Code provides 7 grounds for divorce in Texas:

  1. Insupportability (AKA no-fault)
  2. Cruelty
  3. Adultery
  4. Felony Criminal Conviction
  5. Abandonment
  6. Separation
  7. Confinement in a Mental Hospital

Other than insupportability, the other six grounds are fault-based reasons for divorce. Whether you are seeking a fault or no-fault divorce can have a large effect on the award of spousal support (alimony) or division of assets.

If you’re worried or unsure about the implications of which ground to select, it may be helpful to consult a divorce attorney for legal advice.

Step 2: Filing the Petition for Divorce

Once you have selected the grounds you want to list in your divorce papers, the first divorce form you or your attorney will fill out is the petition for the dissolution of the marriage. In Texas, this is called the original petition for divorce.

The spouse who files for divorce will be referred to as the petitioner, and the other spouse is referred to as the respondent.

The filing of the petition is the legal document that actually starts your divorce case. To file for divorce in Texas, you and/or your spouse must:

  1. Have lived in Texas for at least six months before filing for divorce
  2. File in the county that either you or your spouse has lived in for at least 90 days

Family law matters are generally heard in the state district courts in Texas. In most cases, a divorce case is filed through the district clerk’s office. 

The original petition, along with two extra copies and the appropriate filing fee are then either hand-delivered or mailed to the district clerk’s office in the appropriate county.

For example, if you live in Collin County in Dallas, you would either hand deliver or mail the above to the Collin County district court clerk’s office.

It’s important to note that filing fees vary from county to county. If you’re filing without the help of an attorney, it’s essential to look up the appropriate fee on your county’s website or by calling the clerk’s office.

Once you have paid the court the filing fee and sent in the original petition your divorce case is underway!

Step 3: Providing Your Spouse with Notice

After filing your initial divorce papers with the district court, you will need to provide your spouse with legal notice. This is not the same as just making your spouse aware. Legal notice requires you to serve your spouse in one of the following ways:

  1. Your spouse signs a waiver of citation
  2. Hire a Process Server
  3. Publication or posting

The easiest method to provide your spouse with notice is through a waiver, which is when the respondent would waive their right to be formally served with the divorce papers.

However, the waiver is only valid if it is signed by your spouse after the filing of the original petition with the court.

If your spouse is not amenable to waiver, then you will have to perform some type of personal service. This entails hiring a court-authorized neutral third party to furnish your spouse with the divorce papers, either via a process server, the county constable, or Sheriff.

Posting or publication allows for service via publication in a local newspaper or the equivalent. This method requires a court order and should only be utilized if you have done everything possible and cannot locate your spouse. 

Step 4: Your Spouse’s Answer and Counterpetition

Once your spouse has been provided with notice that you filed for divorce, the ball is in their court. 

With or without an attorney, your spouse will have twenty days from the date of service to file an answer to your petition. After your spouse files an answer, he or she is entitled to be present for all court hearings in your divorce proceedings.

In addition to filing an answer, your spouse may also file a counter petition. This divorce form is similar to the original petition. The counter petition states the respondent’s grounds for filing for divorce and what the respondent would like to request from the court.

A counter petition does not require the same citation listed above but does require the respondent to send the counter petition to the opposing party.

Step 5: The Waiting Period

Unlike other states, Texas has a waiting period requirement during the divorce proceedings.

A court cannot grant the original petition for divorce until it has been pending for at least 60 days. However, the court may provide an exception to the waiting period if domestic violence or family violence is involved.

The waiting period requirement can serve many purposes. While it may provide spouses with a cool down period to reconcile, it more commonly serves as a time period within the middle of a divorce case where the spouses can try to reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce.

If you can reach a deal with your soon to be ex-spouse on matters like child custody, child support, or marital assets, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested divorce.

Traditionally, an uncontested divorce will help you keep your divorce costs down as many are able to go through the process without an attorney. Uncontested divorces are also great for online divorce in Texas.

In an online divorce, you pay a low flat fee to a service like It’s Over Easy, and they fill out all the divorce forms for you. Since you’re not paying an attorney to fight for months on end on your behalf, it also makes the process much less time consuming.

If you and your spouse cannot reach a deal during the waiting period, you will have a contested divorce. The court will then be the ultimate decider on issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of marital property. 

You will likely want an attorney to guide you through this process, although it is possible to represent yourself in your divorce.

In contested divorces, the court will likely encourage the parties to explore alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation. In divorce mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) facilitates you and your spouse reaching an agreement.

Mediation is a confidential process that can be initiated at any time during your divorce case. It can also be a faster and less expensive process than hiring an attorney, but the cost is paid by the parties. If a divorce settlement is reached, then the agreement is usually considered binding.

If reaching a deal through the traditional court battle worries you, then mediation, online divorce, or collaborative law might be alternatives to consider.

During the waiting period, the court may grant temporary orders regarding custody or child support and visitation. If custody is likely to be an issue, the court may also order a custody evaluation during this time.

Step 6: Your Divorce Decree 

If a settlement cannot be reached through any of the above methods, the issues will be presented to a judge at a final hearing. 

Your final hearing may be set for any time after the 60-day waiting period. The final hearing may consist of a bench trial (just in front of a judge) or a jury trial.

However, if you and your spouse have reached an agreement in writing, the final hearing may be as simple as answering a few of the judge’s questions before he or she approves the agreement.

Regardless of whether you came to an agreement or had a trial, you will then receive your final decree of divorce! The divorce decree will generally provide for the division of all community property and debt, detail the child custody and child support orders, as well as alimony.

All you need to do now is take the signed divorce decree and file it with the clerk’s office. Viola, your marriage is officially over!

Note: if you are obtaining a military divorce, it often requires additional steps to finalize your divorce compared to civilian divorces.

FAQs

How long does it take to divorce in Texas?

Since Texas has a 60-day waiting period for divorce, the shortest amount of time a couple could get divorced would be 61 days. However, in reality, it will take longer for most spouses to obtain their divorce. Typically it takes six months to a year to obtain your final decree.

How much does it cost to get a divorce in Texas?

According to a survey conducted by Martindale Nolo Research, the average cost of a divorce in Texas is approximately $15,600 if no children are involved. If children are involved, then the average cost is $23,500.

How long do you have to be separated before you can file for divorce in Texas?

There are no separation requirements to file for divorce in Texas. However, if you are claiming separation as a fault-based ground for your divorce, then you must live apart for at least three years.

Do I have to go to court for an uncontested divorce?

If you are proceeding with an uncontested divorce or online divorce, you likely will be able to largely avoid going to court. 

However, at least one spouse must be present in court for the final hearing. The final hearing could range from a few minutes before the judge to a few hours depending on the case.

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