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Navigating the Basics: Filing for Divorce

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If divorce is in your future, you've got a lot of unanswered questions - how to begin, where to turn, what to expect - they are part of the normal uncertainties typically experienced when making the decision to file for divorce. If the writing is on the wall for you, the following information may help in diminishing those uncertainties as you begin the process.

Grounds for Divorce:

Texas is a no-fault divorce state.  This means you don't need to prove anything to obtain a divorce.  Most divorces allege "insupportability," meaning the marriage has become unworkable and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.

While no fault is required, there are six statutory fault-based grounds recognized in Texas:

1.    Cruelty;

2.    Adultery;

3.    One spouse has been imprisoned for at least one year for a felony;

4.    Abandonment;

5.    The spouses have lived apart for at least three years; and

6.    One spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for at least three years.

These additional six grounds for divorce may be alleged in addition to insupportability in order to convince a court to grant the filing spouse a larger, or disproportionate, share of the community property.

Filing for Divorce:

When the decision to divorce has been made, the first step is to hire a divorce attorney to file an "Original Petition for Divorce."  This petition is filed in the county of residence of one of the spouses.  This means if you and your spouse have lived in one county but he or she has since moved to a new city far away, you can still file for divorce in the county in which you and your spouse lived together. Jurisdiction (meaning the court has the authority to handle the case) is proper if one spouse has lived in Texas for at least six months and has been a resident of that county for at least 90 days prior to filing the petition.

Once the divorce petition is filed, a copy of the petition along with a citation is served on your spouse. After that, that spouse has a limited number of days in which to respond (technically "file an answer") to your petition.   If your spouse does not answer in time, your spouse may suffer a default judgment, which means that the divorce can be entered with only your presence at the proceeding. 

In some counties, standing orders take effect upon the filing of the divorce.  In Tarrant County, for example, a request for temporary restraining order ("TRO") is included with the divorce petition.  The TRO acts as a sort of pause button, preventing either spouse from engaging in acts which affect the marital estate.  These include hiding or moving assets, changing locks, or excluding a spouse from the marital home (absent special circumstances), and taking the children out of the state.

Decide what is important to you:

You need a plan of action. The decisions you made during you divorce can be life-changing.  Questions regarding custody, child support, and visitation, may be the most hotly-contested issues in your divorce.  Even if you and your spouse agree generally on child-related matters, it is important to recognize the importance of a parenting plan which is workable for both spouses as well as the children.  Interrelated issues such as living arrangement and geographic restrictions are important.  What is to be done with the house and the mortgage? What about the division of property and debts?  Your financial future is at stake, so these concerns should be addressed.  

On other hand, many issues can be resolved without litigation.  Judges always appreciate flexibility on non-essential issues.  If you are able to demonstrate the ability to cooperate on such matters, your divorce will be resolved much more efficiently (and probably much more cheaply, too).  

Compile a list of pertinent financial information:

It's important to do your homework so that your attorney can be armed with necessary information.  Generally speaking, the longer your marriage, the more complex your marital estate.  A fair divorce settlement requires work.  That usually means paperwork and documentation.  Be organized and thorough.  Tax document, bank records, employment records are essential in order to compile an accurate inventory and appraisement to present in Court.

Going to Court:

The next step is for the parties and their attorneys is to go to court for temporary orders.  At this hearing the parties may agree upon temporary orders.  Or they may present evidence to the judge.  The purpose is to leave court with orders concerning custody, possession and access to children, child support, spousal maintenance, and other orders regarding persons and property.  Among other things it is important to figure out who lives where and who pays important bills (mortgage, car payments, utilities, etc.).  The orders are temporary until the parties agree upon final terms or a judge makes a ruling at a final trial.  

Discovery and Negotiation:

The attorneys for both spouses will take some time to conduct discovery (the process of obtaining information and documents from the other party) and negotiate settlement terms. Discovery will generally include answering of questions, admitting certain facts and production of document such as bank records and retirement accounts.  In some cases attorneys may take oral depositions of the opposing party. 

The information obtained during this process is used to determine the size and composition of the marital estate.  The information will be used by the attorneys to negotiate agreeable terms of settlement, or to present evidence to the court for a "just and right" division of the estate.

How long does it take? 

You may be hoping for a quick divorce.  This is not always possible.  A complex divorce litigated and argued at a final trial will take longer than one resolved between the parties or resolved in mediation.  In this case you are at the mercy of the court's busy docket.  A complex divorce may require custody evaluations, depositions, and discovery. 

Most divorces, however, are resolved prior to a final trial.  The absolute minimum (with a limited exception) for a divorce to be granted is after 60 days have elapsed from the filing of the divorce petition.

So how long does it take? It just depends. 

The next Chapter:

The decision to seek a divorce is not an impulsive one.  It's an important decision with important consequences.  Chances are you've put a great deal of thought into this.  Now is the time to find a divorce lawyer you are comfortable with who can guide you through what can often be a new and intimidating process.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  And when your divorce is finalized, the next chapter in your life begins.

At the Hardy Law Group, we are focused on your future.  We can be your advocate and your voice of reason.  Call 817-222-0000 to speak to an experienced Fort Worth or Tarrant County divorce attorney. 

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