Once you begin the divorce process, you need a plan. Preparation is essential. You’ll want to investigate and begin certain steps such as pulling your credit report, closing joint bank accounts and opening individual ones, asking questions such as ” who gets the house,” guarding your health coverage, and assessing where you stand relative to each of the divorce financial issues.
Whether you are the one initiating the divorce, or you have been served by your spouse, one fact remains the same. Throughout the divorce process, it benefits both spouses to treat this as a business transaction. Remember both of you have total control whether the total cost of your divorce is a few thousand dollars or ten to twenty thousand. In Texas, a divorce begins when someone files an Original Petition for Divorce. A person may file for divorce in Texas if:
- Both parties live in Texas and have lived in Texas for at least six months; or
- Texas was the last state in which the parties lived together as a married couple
The divorce petition must be filed in the county in which one or both parties have resided for at least 90 days immediately before the petition is filed. If there are minor children, the divorce must be filed in the county where the children reside, even if both parents do not still reside in that county.
There is a waiting period that begins on the day the divorce petition is filed and ends 60 days later. The divorce cannot be finalized until the 61st day after the day the petition is filed. This is a minimum waiting period – there is no requirement that the divorce be completed on the 61st day, but it cannot be finalized before that day.
One party will be named as the Petitioner in the divorce and the other will be called the Respondent. When the divorce decree is based on an agreement between the husband and wife, it does not matter who is Petitioner and who is Respondent. The Petitioner will sign the divorce petition.
The Respondent will need to make an appearance in the case. This is done by filing an answer. The purpose of the answer is to let the court know that the Respondent is aware that the divorce petition has been filed. The same thing can be accomplished by signing a Waiver of Service of Citation, which is provided as part of the Negotiated Divorce documents. The Negotiated Divorce Waiver of Service of Citation form protects the Respondent’s rights by stating that the Respondent consents for a Court to grant the divorce only if the Respondent has signed the divorce decree.
Texas allows for no-fault divorce. This means that neither party has to prove that the other party did something wrong to be entitled to a divorce. It does not mean that one party – or both parties – did not do something wrong, it just means that the details about why you want a divorce remain private. They do not need to be put into court documents.
Your divorce is concluded with a divorce decree that is signed by a judge. Your divorce decree will contain both a parenting plan (if you have minor children) and a division of your assets and liabilities. One party to the divorce usually has to make a short court appearance to get the divorce decree signed.
Division of some assets – real estate and 401(k) accounts, for example – requires documents in addition to the divorce decree that are specific to those assets.
How to Approach Your Texas Divorce
Anytime you and your spouse are getting into a heated discussion relating to any aspect of your divorce, stop and ask yourself these four questions:
- How much is this issue worth to me in today’s dollars?
- Am I making a big deal out of this only to upset my spouse (even if it isn’t that important?)
- How likely is it that I will end-up prevailing on this issue if I take it to a judge?
- What will it cost to argue this point?
Texas divorce planning for an easy divorce
If you are in a marriage that is not working out, you must ultimately decide whether to stay or go. Making “no decision” is almost always the wrong decision. Once you decide to map your departure, make the following plans as you prepare your future:
- Set-up a separate e-mail account and delete any temporary files on your computer. Temporary files store information such as the websites you have visited and what you did while you were there. Divorce is a volatile time. Don’t make it worse with questionable online activity.
- Get a lawyer. Some divorce attorneys and law firms charge by the hour. Almost all have initial consultations, but you shouldn’t have to pay for one. In the initial meeting, get some advice and outline a strategy based on your particular facts and circumstances.
- Begin gathering financial information. Start with the required court documents, and do your best to give them to the attorney who you hire early-on; it will save you time and money.
- Take what belongs to you and safeguard it. Personal property — yearbooks, jewelry, CD and DVD collections, and family heirlooms — have almost no monetary value, and judges pay little attention to them. If you have several items, move them out slowly. You may want to store them in a safety deposit box, storage facility, or at the home of a trusted friend.
- Figure out exactly what your spouse is earning. W-2 employees are easiest because all you need to do is look at a recent paystub, but if there are business ownership interests, find out at a casual social conversation how partners are paid. If your spouse is paid in cash, keep track of the income flow over several months.
- Start using our financial worksheets and custody worksheets. Each will help you organize your thoughts and strategies.
- Pay close attention to the mail your spouse receives — who is sending it and where it is coming from. Forward your personal mail to a friend’s house.
- Stop spending money — start saving it. You’ll need it for the first few months that you are on your own.
Deciding whether to hire a lawyer or handle your own case
Going through a divorce without a lawyer is a dangerous move. Especially if your spouse has retained an attorney, consider how that attorney knows the ins-and-outs of divorce that non-lawyers generally do not. Additionally, if either one of you is harboring a lot of anger, sadness, or if you are in a fragile state, you’ll be at a disadvantage. Judges are instructed to treat self-represented litigants no different than attorneys — whether you understand divorce law and Massachusetts procedure or not.
With decades of combined experience, our attorneys know how to get results to get your case resolved. Not every case requires a run to the courtroom. On the other hand, you need representation from someone that knows how to prosecute your case should you need to go into the courtroom. With a proven track record of litigation, we achieve optimal results for our clients through negotiation, mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, and, if necessary, trial.
Even if you are convinced you can handle it yourself, chances are you’ll still need our self-help or second opinion services. We are available to clients 7 days a week.
What traits to look for in a divorce lawyer
Here are the qualities you should be looking for when you begin looking for an attorney to represent you in your divorce case:
- An attorney who is local. You need an advocate who is familiar with the judges, local rules, and opposing counsel.
- A divorce law firm that has a narrow practice focus. If the case gets complex, you want a lawyer who focuses their practice in domestic relations law.
- If you have children, find a custody lawyer who will put the needs of your children first. If the attorney has children of his or her own, you should also ask about how to help children adjust to divorce if the process has already begun.
- Find a divorce attorney who provides services for a set fee, who will help you reach a middle-ground, and one who would rather help you work with your spouse — not one who wants to fight (and drive up the legal bill).
How divorce legal fees are handled
Attorneys charge for their time, and it is ultimately up to you and your spouse as to how much your divorce will cost. You can work together and settle major issues outside the courtroom; the end result will be saving more for college and spending less on a needless courtroom battle. In a contested divorce, ashes are the only thing left behind, and it will do great harm to your children.
If you or your spouse hires an attorney who believes the only way to get through a divorce is to become aggressive in search of winning, you’ll be paying large fees for that attitude. Remember, pay-by-the-hour lawyers, don’t get paid to settle quickly! Take some time to learn how to reduce your legal fees.