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Divorce: What to expect

Deciding to end your marriage is a difficult decision to make even if one or both agree a divorce is the best available option. You and your spouse will experience heavy emotion as you work through the process to separate households and finances, which can become even more difficult if you and your spouse cannot agree on custody.

If you and your spouse can agree on how everything should be split and distributed and can agree on how custody and parenting time or visitation should be handled, then you can hire an attorney to draft a formal agreement outlining the detail and submit to the court for approval. If you and your spouse can't agree, they may take longer to finalize. However, regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested you will need to follow a number or procedures.

Starting the divorce process

In order to draft the various documents required by the court, your attorney will need to gather a lot of personal information about you and your family. While each case and personal situation is different, which may require additional negotiations, involvement or work, you can generally expect the following to occur:

1. Your attorney will draft a Summons and Petition. These pleadings put your spouse on notice that you want a divorce and outline your reasons. Texas is a no-fault state, which means you do not need a particular reason, but most generally claim irreconcilable differences. In some cases, the Petition will outline what you want. For example, it will tell your spouse and the court how you would like to see custody awarded or that you would like to keep the marital homestead.

2. A process server will serve your spouse with the pleadings and your attorney will file them with the court.

3. Your spouse will have a certain period of time in which to respond to your petition. In other words, your spouse can indicate he or she agrees with your petition or can disagree and then respond with a Counter-Petition to outline what they would like to see in terms of custody or property division. If your spouse does not answer, the court can award you everything you requested.

4. Assuming your spouse has responded, your attorney and his or her attorney will exchange information through the discovery process. Each party provides the other with documents regarding income, assets and debts so property division and child support or alimony can be determined.

5. Sometimes, you may need to attend preliminary hearings. Your attorney can guide you through this process and let you know what to expect at each phase.

6. You and your spouse may attend mediation. Mediation can be a useful tool to iron out any remaining disputes between you and your spouse. If the parties come to an agreement during mediation, the attorneys will draft up a settlement agreement to submit to the court. The judge will review it and then either approve or deny it. In some cases, the judge may have additional requirements he or she would like the agreement to address.

7. You and your attorney will prepare for trial if you and your spouse are unable to reach settlement. Trial is the final hearing where each attorney will present evidence and arguments to the judge to consider. After trial, the judge will dissolve the marriage and decide who is granted custody, how parenting time is scheduled, how property is divided and may award child support or alimony.

A divorce has a lot of moving parts and rules to follow. Speaking to a qualified family law attorney will help you through the process and answer additional questions you may have. Going through a divorce can be heart-wrenching and lonely but it doesn't have to be when you have someone by your side advocating for your interests. 

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