What are the First Steps in the Divorce Process?
When a marriage breaks down, many people are unfamiliar with their rights and legal options, and they may not know where to turn for help. Not being familiar with your rights can be a problem, and the matter is further complicated by the intense stress and emotional toll that even considering divorce can take. You should contact an experienced Houston divorce attorney as soon as possible to get qualified legal help. You’ll be able to tell them your side of the story and learn about the process and how it will work for your situation. In general, the first steps of the divorce process include:
1. Make sure you meet the residential requirements for a Texas divorce
Before anything can take place, you’ll need to be sure that you meet the requirements for a divorce in Texas. Unlike some states that require a period of separation, Texas does not recognize separations, so you don’t need to worry about that before filing for divorce. However, there are certain residency requirements in order to file for divorce in Texas. For your divorce to even begin either you or your spouse must have:
- Lived in Texas for at least the last six months
- Lived in the same Texas county for at least 90 continuous days
If your marriage doesn’t meet those requirements, there’s no point going forward with the divorce yet, at least not under Texas law. You’ll have to wait out the time requirements before going further.
2. Discuss the possibility, if you can, with your partner
Once you qualify for a divorce, the next step is to discuss the choice with your partner. Divorces can be long and expensive when the two spouses dissolving their union disagree about essential matters like the division of property and child custody. Conversely, the process can be faster and cheaper when you work out the majority of issues before filing any paperwork. The more you can reach an agreement about the following issues, the better:
- Division of property after the divorce
- Custody of children
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Where you both intend to live (if you have kids)
Obviously, this step isn’t always possible. Some spouses simply refuse to work through these compromises, while others may feel they are in danger with their spouse. This is a desirable step, but your divorce can progress without it.
3. Contact Holmes, Diggs & Sadler
The next major step you should take with your divorce is to hire a divorce attorney. While you can always bring in an attorney later, having a lawyer from the start allows you to avoid any mistakes that might be costly later. A lawyer can advise you on the best ways to fill out all your paperwork and the best strategies you can use early on to ensure the smoothest divorce with the most positive outcome.
4. Fill out and file your petition for divorce
Whether you have a lawyer or not, the divorce process doesn’t officially begin until you fill out and file a petition for divorce. Since Texas doesn’t recognize separations, living apart is of no legal significance to the state of your marriage. This paperwork must be filled out very carefully, so it is advisable you do so with your lawyer present.
Once you have filled out your petition fully, you should make two copies and go to the District Clerk’s Office in the county you or your spouse have been living in for the last 90 days. Once you have filed the petition, the divorce process has officially begun.
5. Notify your spouse
Once the petition is filed, you must notify your spouse. This is done by providing them with one of the copies of the petition for divorce that the District Clerk’s Office officially stamped. To notify your spouse you can:
- Serve the spouse officially through an official process server or constable
- Provide a signed Waiver of Service from the spouse
The first option is preferable if you are not on good terms with your spouse, while the second is cheaper and better if you feel comfortable providing a copy of the petition to your spouse yourself.
6. Wait for your spouse’s response
Once your spouse has been served notice of your petition for divorce, they should provide a response to the court that says they have received the petition. This acknowledges that they will participate in the process, but it does not necessarily mean that the divorce will be uncontested. If no answer is received within a certain period, you can receive a default judgment and divorce without your spouse’s consent.
These are only the first steps in the divorce process. In Texas, a couple must wait at least 60 days from the date the petition was filed before a divorce is granted, regardless of whether the divorce is uncontested. The process can include many more steps and have numerous other requirements, but once you’ve made it through these six steps with the help of Holmes, Diggs & Sadler, you’ll be well on the path to a happier life.