Going through a divorce can be stressful, scary, and confusing. Often people find themselves in a divorce case without knowing exactly when they will have to move out of their house, or when their credit card bills will get paid, or when they will see their children. The divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Rita C. Dixon, PLLC handle divorce cases every day and can help explain the process to make the situation less stressful. While each Texas divorce case is unique and each individual county and judge have some local rules and procedures, the Texas Family Court system processes all divorces in a similar fashion. Here are the main steps in a Texas Divorce Case:
1. Filing for Divorce: The first step to initiate a divorce case is to file an Original Petition for Divorce with your county’s District Clerk. This Petition outlines the parties in the case, i.e. the couple getting divorced and lists any children of the marriage. It also lists initial requests that are being made regarding division of martial community property and regarding child custody and child support. There is a filing fee that must be paid to the county where it is filed.
2. Service of the Divorce Petition on the other spouse: After the case is filed the Petition and a Citation, a document informing the other spouse that a divorce has been filed, must be served on the other spouse. This is usually done by a process server personally handing the divorce papers to the other spouse. Sometimes, a waiver of service can prevent a process server from having to physically hand over the papers.
3. Filing an Answer: The other spouse who is served with the papers will then have a deadline to file an answer in the case outlining his/her initial response.
4. Initial Disclosure of Evidence: 30 days after the answer is filed the parties are required to exchange a series of documents and information. For example, a list of potential witnesses, 2 years worth of bank statements, credit card statements, pay stubs, etc. This deadline is important because if either party fails to produce this evidence then the Court could impose penalties on the non-producing party.
5. Temporary Orders Hearing: The first hearing in most divorce cases is the Temporary Orders hearing. At the hearing, the Judge will listen to testimony and examine evidence and then make initial rulings regarding child custody, child support, division of property, and responsibility for marital debts. This hearing will determine how these issues are handled until the case is finished, or until another temporary orders hearing occurs.
6. Formal Discovery: After the initial disclosure of evidence occurs the parties can conduct additional formal discovery, where more information and documents are exchanged in preparation for trial. Discovery can include depositions, written questions, and production of documents.
7. Mediation: Before trial, the Judge will either require you to, or the parties will agree, to go to mediation to try an settle the case. At the mediation, each spouse will be with their attorney, separate from the other spouse/attorney. A neutral/third-party mediator will go between the two spouses trying to settle the issues. The entire case, or just part of a case, can settle at mediation. If a settlement agreement is reached then the parties will sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement (also called a “MSA”) that is binding.
8. Trial: If some or all of the case has not settled then the Judge will hear the case at a trial.
9. Final Decree: After a trial, or after a mediation, the parties will sign off on a Final Decree of Divorce. This document will address each issue in the divorce including child custody, child support, division of property, etc. Once it is signed by the judge and filed the case is concluded and the parties are divorced.
If you have questions about the divorce process in Texas, contact the divorce lawyers at The Law Offices of Rita C. Dixon, PLLC today.