Yes, you can file divorce paperwork yourself in Texas. This can be done in an uncontested divorce where you and your spouse agree on all of the issues in your case. It can also be done by you individually in a contested divorce where you and your spouse do not agree on all or even any of the issues in your divorce. There is no requirement that you be represented by an attorney in a divorce but it sure helps given how many issues are at stake in a typical Texas divorce.
If you and your spouse agree on most of the issues in your divorce, then the thought may have entered your mind to go through the case yourself without the assistance of an attorney. This is known as a "pro se" divorce. To begin with, yes, you can file for divorce in Texas without the assistance of an attorney. There are many options why you may be pursuing this goal including to save money, to save time, or even because you don't think an attorney can help you. While we certainly believe an attorney CAN help you in a divorce, we don’t want this article to become an argument. Rather, if you are convinced that you and your spouse can get a divorce without the need to hire an attorney, please allow the information we share with you today to serve as your guide for that process.
The key to this entire discussion is being confident that you and your spouse have agreed to all of the conditions, orders, and other structures that are a part of a divorce. We will be walking you through these factors in this article. With child custody, conservatorship, and marital property distribution to discuss it is not easy to be able to say for certain that you and your spouse have it all under control. A divorce is a sort of like spinning plates on the end of a long stick: just when you get the first few balancing/spinning one on the end falls off. A divorce has just as many moving pieces and can be just as tricky to maintain your poise during.
Uncontested divorces in Texas
An uncontested divorce is one where you and your spouse have no issues that you disagree on. This is not easy to accomplish given that there are so many issues at stake in a divorce. You and your spouse need to discuss in detail all the elements of your case before you set out to begin a divorce without attorneys. A good first test to give yourselves: do you know the issues that are relevant in a divorce? I don’t mean on a general level, either. I mean on a specific level for you and your family to discuss. If you are not comfortable with your level of knowledge, then you need to take steps to improve yourself in that regard. If you are unwilling, unable, or otherwise don't feel good about this subject then you should consider speaking with an attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan for a free-of-charge consultation.
What are the main issues of a divorce? For every divorce, this subject will differ to one extent or another. However, for most people, the common issues in a divorce look something like this: child custody, marital property division, child support, debt division, spousal support, and possession of children. The better prepared you can be to discuss these subjects the better off the two of you will be. This doesn’t mean that you are ready to complete your divorce when you mention these subjects to one another, either. Rather, you need to have specific plans in place as far as how you want to attack these subjects. Only then is your divorce truly uncontested.
Another word of warning to you when it comes to an uncontested divorce is that it is easy to start off believing that your divorce will be uncontested, but many people encounter situations where their hopes of an uncontested divorce can end in a situation where you and your spouse end up having a range of issues that you all are unable to agree upon. Again- this is not uncommon and does not mean that you haven't put in enough effort to sort out these issues. Rather, this speaks to how diverse and complicated even a simple divorce can be. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan has had many clients over the years start their divorce without an attorney only to find that the time commitment to representing themselves in a divorce was too great. As a result, these folks lost time by attempting to proceed with a divorce without a lawyer only to have to double back and hire us to represent them. You can avoid this mistake by hiring an attorney immediately upon starting your divorce.
Filing divorce forms in Texas
First things first: a Texas family court needs to have jurisdiction over your case for you to file for divorce here. What does that mean? Jurisdiction is the ability of a Texas family court to issue decisions in your case that are enforceable and legitimate. If the court does not have jurisdiction over your case, then that means that its orders are not valid. You may end up filing for your divorce only to find that the court will decline to hear your case if your spouse or anyone else attempts to challenge jurisdiction. This is another factor that could cause you to lose valuable time. Working with an attorney, for what it’s worth, can help you to avoid a situation where you file for divorce in a county that does have jurisdiction.
You can know in advance if a particular county has jurisdiction by examining how long you have been a resident of that county and the State of Texas. Let's take Harris County. You need to have been a resident of the State of Texas for the past six months before your divorce and in Harris County for at least the past ninety days for the county to have jurisdiction over your case. Divorce cases are filed in the district courts and your divorce will be assigned randomly to one of the courts that hears family cases.
You can establish residency proof by showing a utility or other bill which ties you to a particular address in your county of choice. We realize that for most of you jurisdiction is not a major issue that you are going to be concerned about. However, I know that some of you may have just moved counties or even just moved to Texas. As a result, you may need to know where you should file your divorce. If you are not a resident of Texas or any particular county, you will need to either wait until you establish residency in your particular county or file for divorce in your former county of residence if time is of the essence as far as filing the divorce is concerned.
There are a handful of forms that are commonly filed across the board in Texas divorces. Those include civil case information sheets, vital statistics forms, petitions for divorce, waiver of service, and the final decree of divorce. Let's walk through each form to provide you with a bit more information about each as you start to plan out how to file for divorce on your own in Texas.
The Civil Case Information Sheet lists your name and the type of case that you will be filing. This is the cover sheet to file for divorce and can be completed electronically. The Vital Statistics Form will be filed with your paperwork but is used to keep track of information for the State of Texas. The Petition for Divorce is the initial document that notifies the court of your intention to divorce your spouse. Waiver of Service allows your spouse to waive their right to be personally served with divorce papers. The Final Decree of Divorce will likely be filed at the end of your case when you all have had an opportunity to negotiate a settlement on matters related to your lives. This decree will be signed by you, your spouse, and the judge and are the final order in your divorce case.
Keep in mind that if you are going to forego hiring an attorney for your divorce then you will need to familiarize yourself with how to file for divorce. For most counties, you must do so online. In-person and paper filings are not allowed any longer. There are different websites and filing methods as far as electronic filing. You can perform some basic internet research or go to the District Clerk's website for your county to learn more about this process. The court's website may even have a sample petition for divorces for you to fill out and file once completed.
Are there costs to file for divorce?
Yes. You will pay a filing fee to file either your Petition for Divorce or an Answer to a divorce petition. In an uncontested divorce, you are likely to have a Waiver of Service completed rather than an Answer. This will save time and money on filing fees. Your district or county clerk should have a list online of the filing fees for certain documents. You can look up what you will need to pay to budget accordingly.
Additionally, you may be able to have these filing fees waived if you can show that you have a proven financial need. For example, if you receive food stamps, are on Medicaid, or receive any other kind of government benefit then you are likely in a position where it is worth your time to inquire about having these filing fees waived. You can fill out a form and ask a judge to review your circumstances to determine whether you qualify to have your filing fees waived.
Temporary orders in a divorce
Temporary orders in a divorce will give you and your spouse marching orders for how to conduct yourselves during the divorce case. This means that you will be able to have some accountability with your spouse on how to raise your children, share time with the kids, and discuss how to divide up household bills and other pertinent subjects for a divorce. Division of marital property will be relevant later towards the end of your divorce. However, for now, nothing related to community property division will be included in your temporary orders. You may need more time to negotiate on this subject, anyways.
One item that I will highlight for you is that if you need temporary orders for your divorce you may need to reconsider whether you should proceed with the divorce without an attorney. Usually, an uncontested divorce is one where the case is so short that you may not even need temporary orders. Or you and your spouse can work out the details of this subject between the two of you and do not need to put anything in writing. Informal temporary orders are what you could call the agreement that you and your spouse have in that case. However, some people like to put things in writing so that they know exactly how to proceed and what is at stake in your case. However, if you find that you and your spouse are unable to agree on temporary orders then that should give you a reason for pause when it comes to being able to come to an agreement on final orders during the end stage of your case. Remember that the all-important issue of community property division takes place at the end of a divorce and is almost always a sticking point for many couples.
Marital property division in Texas is based upon our laws related to community property. It is presumed that all property in existence at the time of your divorce is community property. Community property is eligible for divorce in divorce. However, you and your spouse almost certainly have separate property of your own. Separate property cannot be divided by a family court judge and is usually comprised of property that you or your spouse owned before getting married.
Before filing for divorce, you should begin to perform a basic inventory of the property that you own. For instance, our attorneys recommend to clients that they walk around the home and take pictures of each room in the house, closets, drawers, safes, and any other place where property may be stored. In addition, you can begin to collect information on the value of various bank accounts, investments, and retirement accounts. All of this is done to anticipate how property may be divided between the two of you in a divorce scenario.
In a situation where your divorce is uncontested the two of you may already have a plan in place. Or, one of you may have moved out some time ago and your property has already been divided up accordingly. Whatever your situation is keep in mind that there are several ways for you and your spouse to divide Community property. Unless your case goes all the way to a trial, you and your spouse will have the final say so on how your property is divided. This means that the two of you should think long and hard about what your goals are after the divorce and what each of you needs to live comfortably.
If you are curious, a family court judge will consider several factors when dividing up Community property in your divorce should the two of you need a judge’s assistance. For one, a judge would consider your income and that of your co-parent. Whichever one of you earns more money will likely be at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving Community property. Next, the separate property owned by both of you will also be considered. If you own a substantial amount of separate property while your spouse has none this is a factor that will also favor your spouse. Your age, educational level in job prospects after the divorce will also make a difference.
Finally, mediation is a subject that can become relevant even in an uncontested divorce. As we discussed at the beginning of today's blog post, it is important to have specific plans in place when it comes to how property should be divided in your divorce in addition to child custody-related subjects. Simply having a general idea of how you would like to structure your case is a good start, but it is not a good endpoint for your case. This is where mediation can benefit you and your spouse.
Even if the two of you do not have attorneys to represent you in the divorce you all can choose to work with an experienced mediator who can help you put general ideas into a firm plan for property and children alike. A mediator can help you fine-tune a plan on how to divide up time with children and your marital property. A mediated settlement agreement will help you when drafting final orders in your divorce.
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