If you’re planning to file for divorce in Texas, it’s important to understand how the process works. The divorce process begins when your attorney files a document called the “Original Petition for Divorce.” You are not required to sign the petition, unless you are acting as your own attorney. Once your attorney completes the petition for divorce, it will be processed at the county courthouse, and delivered to your spouse. Your petition will be filed with the District County Clerk and your case will be assigned to a specific court. Divorce filings are randomly assigned – so your attorney cannot select the court or judge that will hear your case.
After your petition has been processed at the courthouse, it will be delivered to your spouse by a sheriff, police officer, or private process server. This is generally referred to as being “served” divorce papers. Your spouse will be informed that a lawsuit has been filed, with a limited number of days in which to respond. Both parties to the lawsuit (you and your spouse) can file “temporary orders,” which are effective during the lawsuit, until your divorce is granted. Temporary orders can determine which spouse will continue living in the family home, require payment of monthly bills, assign temporary child custody, determine who pays attorney’s fees, and much more.
During the divorce proceedings, a temporary restraining order can also be issued by the court. A temporary restraining order can prevent harassment, property sale or transfer, and other specific actions. If you request temporary orders (or a temporary restraining order), the court will set a hearing date. If an agreement with your spouse is not reached before your scheduled hearing, then you will be required to appear in court. If you have children, then the court must deal with child custody issues at the same time.
The next step in Texas divorce proceedings is “discovery.” During the discovery process, your attorney will learn more about the defendant (your spouse) and what is relevant to the lawsuit. Common parts of the discovery process include: depositions (oral testimony), requests for disclosure, requests for production of documents (i.e. tax returns, bank account statements, deeds). The discovery process helps to determine property & asset values, and how to fairly divide them.
The final step in the divorce process is settlement or trial. After each side has gathered information (through the discovery process), both parties can try to resolve their case by mutual agreement. This is commonly known as “settlement.” A formal court hearing can sometimes be avoided if a settlement can be reached. Mediation and direct negotiation can help resolve disputes over child custody, child support, and division of assets. If disputes cannot be settled through negotiation, then either party can request that the Court set a formal date for the divorce trial.
At the trial, the Court will hear all the evidence and make a decision. The trial ruling must be put into a written order, which is called a “Decree of Divorce.” At least one of the parties must appear before the judge and give sworn testimony before the divorce decree is formally granted. If the testimony meets the legal requirements for a divorce, the judge will sign the Decree of Divorce. In most situations, this is the end of the divorce process.