Two of the most frequently asked questions I get during my Houston divorce consults are:
- “How much is my divorce going to cost?” and
- “How long is my divorce going to take?”
It is understandable that anyone about to undergo a divorce would like know the answers to these questions. We all would like some certainty in our lives. Unfortunately, in the Texas divorce process there is a lot of uncertainty. In today's blog, we will discuss the dirty trick of delaying the divorce, reasons why it is sometimes used, and methods of combating this dirty divorce trick.
What are Some Reasons a Spouse May Want to Delay the Divorce?
Some of the reasons I have observed for why spouses want to delay a divorce include:
- To punish their ex
- Having a scorched-earth mentality
- To obtain a financial benefit
I have witnessed this happen on more than one occasion. I was early in my career and working as an associate for another attorney. In that case, our client was a music teacher and from what I recall, he made approximately $40,000 a year. His ex ran up the litigation costs and turned what should have been a $5,000 divorce into a $40,000 divorce. She did this by:
- Conducting unnecessary requests for production, asking for bank account documents from 10 years ago
- Depositions regarding bank accounts and other financial accounts
- Motions to compel and other needless hearings
Her excuse was that she was trying to find out if her husband the music teacher was hiding assets in offshore bank accounts. I believe the real reason was she was trying to punish her husband. That case did involve adultery. However, in the process of punishing her husband, she also managed to punish herself. They were in a large financial hole after the divorce.
This is one way I have seen tactical and stalling measures used. Others have a “win at all costs” or “scorched earth” mentality. Another attorney I know had a consult where a husband wanted to figure out how to dispose of all the marital property so that the wife did not get anything. He would rather they both walk away with nothing rather than her walk away with anything.
Unfortunately, someone with this sort of attitude can easily and deliberately drive up the costs for the other spouse. This is sometimes done to try and financially squeeze the spouse, or wear them down so they are too frustrated to continue the litigation.
Another reason why your ex may want to delay the divorce is that they are receiving temporary spousal support (alimony). If they are not eligible for post-divorce spousal support, then they have a vested interest in trying to extend the pendency of a divorce case for a long period of time.
Some Methods Used to Delay the Texas Divorce Process
The Texas divorce process can be costly at the best of times. However, some vindictive divorcing spouses can manage to double, triple, or even quadruple their divorce litigation costs. Through their actions, they also intentionally inflict similar inflated costs on their future exes. This is done by:
- Avoiding service
- Changing lawyers frequently
- Failing to respond to discovery
- Not signing documents
- Not returning phone calls, emails, or other forms of communication
- Bringing needless motions
- Generally dragging out the process
Avoiding Service of Process
One of the most common delaying tactics is by avoiding service. The next step after filing for divorce is to bring your spouse under the power of the court. This is done by serving them with a copy of the divorce paperwork. However, if your ex avoids service, this will delay the divorce process.
If your spouse avoids normal service, your divorce lawyer can ask the court for substituted service. This is an order from the court allowing service in an alternative manner such as:
- Publication in a newspaper
- Posting a copy of the divorce paperwork on the door where your spouse is staying
- Serving anyone over the age of 16 at the residence where your spouse is staying
The most common forms of substitute service granted by courts are:
- Service on any person over sixteen years of age in the house or
- Attaching the process to the front door of the confirmed residence of the spouse
If the residence is unknown, then it is common to serve the party by publication. The downsides to substituted service are:
- Generally, this method costs more
- Takes longer
- If a judgment is reached by default, then your spouse has the opportunity to ask for a new trial up to two years later. This could mean more legal fees and more delays.
Firing Your Lawyer Just Before Trial
This divorce trick can sometimes be used effectively to delay a divorce by firing their Texas divorce lawyer a few weeks prior to trial.
The fact that a spouse is generally free to change lawyers mid-case does not necessarily mean it is good idea to do so. Yes, it may delay the trial. However, the tradeoff is:
- The new attorney will be scrambling to get caught up regarding the facts of case that may have been going on for a year or more.
- You are paying your new lawyer for the time they are spending to learn facts that your old attorney will already have known.
- Your new attorney will probably require a large retainer
- If you owe your old attorney any money, they may intervene in your divorce case to collect that money. This can add additional costs to what is probably already an expensive divorce.
How does this work?
In general, a client has a right to be represented by the lawyer of their choosing. That means in most circumstances they can change attorneys mid-case.
Judges are not generally inclined to force clients to stay in contractual relationships against their will. However, at times divorcing spouses can try and use their ability to fire and hire new counsel to their advantage.
At its most simple level firing your lawyer is reason to ask for a continuance from the court in order to:
- Find a new lawyer
- For your new lawyer to get up to speed on the case
Unless this trick has been used more than once. A court is often inclined to grant this motion for continuance.
How to Combat Your Spouse’s Delaying Tactics
Depending on the case, there are different things that can be done to combat delaying tactics. Unfortunately, most of the time the remedy is not immediate. However, ultimately it is possible to push a case along.
Not Complying with Discovery
Usually in the divorce cases I have handled, everyone understand that they are entitled to comply with the discovery rules of a case. Unfortunately, there are times when this does not happen or the discovery could not have completed in a timely manner.
Most of the time when there is an attorney on the other side of the case, we can reach an agreement on when they will get us the needed discovery. However, there have been times when there is a non-attorney or a difficult attorney on the other side of the case.
When this happens, the remedy is to file a motion to compel discovery and set it for a hearing. If after the hearing a judge finds that your ex is in violation of the discovery rules, a judge can:
- Disallow further discovery by the violating party
- Order the costs of discovery be paid by the violator
- Order that the violating party cannot raise defenses or claims
- Strike all or parts of the violators pleadings
- Find the violator in contempt
Generally, a judge must start with something mild before working up to the harsher discovery remedies. However, if your ex continues to be difficult the penalties can become very harsh.
Not Signing an Agreed Order
If the agreement was reached in mediation, then an added benefit of mediation is we can get the court to sign an order based on that agreement. The easiest way to proceed of course is if everyone complies with signing the order to begin with.
However, sometimes people change their minds, get cold feet, or want to tweak the agreement. In these cases, we will set a hearing to prove up the mediated settlement agreement. The judge will give our office a certain amount of time to draft and circulate an order based on that agreement.
If the other side continues to refuse to sign, we will show up on the day of entry (the date the judge gave us to come back if the order was not signed by all parties). As long as the Final Divorce Decree or other order is drafted based on the mediated agreement a judge will still sign the Order even if your ex or the opposing counsel refuses.
Order Based on a Court Hearing
The above method of getting an order signed applies to any order based on a hearing in front of a judge. The only difference is there is not the added step of proving up the agreement first. That is because there is already been a hearing and the order is based on the ruling by the judge.
Asking for Extensions, Missing Depositions, or Missing Mediation Dates
A divorce case can become very frustrating if your ex refuses to respond, does so slowly, or does whatever they can to drag their feet. Examples include:
- Requesting extensions
- Cancelling depositions
- Being too busy to schedule a mediation or missing mediation dates
The remedy when these types of tactics start to happen is much like others we have already discussed—filing a motion and going to court. This can be very frustrating for clients because the remedy seems like a delay in itself.
Unfortunately, in order to push the case forward it sometimes requires the help of the court. If your ex is dragging their feet regarding mediation or complying with depositions. A judge can order:
- The costs of attorney’s fees and any costs associated with cooperating regarding those things to be reimbursed
- Dates when mediation and depositions must be completed
- Other sanctions if your ex fails to comply with the judge’s orders
If you want to know more about what you can do, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: “16 Steps to Help You Plan & Prepare for Your Texas Divorce”
If you want to know more about how to prepare, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: “13 Dirty Tricks to Watch Out For in Your Texas Divorce, and How to Counter Them" Today!”
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Spring Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Spring, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.