It makes sense that if you are in the beginning stages of planning a divorce, your thoughts are already contemplating an end to the case. Who could blame you? A divorce is not fun, not cheap, and is a lot of work. If you came to our blog today to get some assurance that divorcing isn't as bad as people make it out to be, maybe we can discuss that. However, the idea that divorce is anything but more prolonged than you would like it to be, somewhat expensive, and a lot of work would be misleading to say.
Every person who files for divorce in Texas shares in common at least one goal: getting a divorce granted by the judge that your case has been assigned to. Divorces come in different shapes and sizes, but overall, you want to be no longer married to your spouse. The reasons why that is may differ from person to person, but the process and the goal are the same for you as they would be for your neighbor. Divorce is emotional, and dwelling on the not-so-fun steps of the divorce can be difficult for many people.
With that said, a question that I receive with some frequency is when you are considered divorced. Emotionally, it can feel like you are divorced the second you decide to move forward with the legal process. It may have been a decision that you have struggled to make over the past few years. Now that you have finally decided to bite the bullet and go through with a divorce, the sense of relief is enough to cause you to feel like you are already onto the next phase of your life.
Still, other folks have told me that their impression is that once you hire an attorney and file for divorce is when the divorce is official. Sending in the legal documents to the court and telling the State of Texas that you no longer wish to be married to your spouse should be a pretty definitive end to the relationship. There's not any going back for most people. Besides, now that you have committed time and money to the process, that should be enough to bring about some degree of formal, legal separation.
Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will center on this question: when is a divorce official? Are you considered divorced the moment you decide to get the divorce, when you sign the papers or when you and your spouse sign the final paperwork? When you are dealing with an unpleasant process like divorce, time is something you wish you could speed up. Is there any way to speed up the divorce so that you are legally divorced sooner rather than later?
First things first: you need to decide to get a divorce.
Deciding to get divorced will probably be one of the most challenging decisions you will need to make in your life. Many people will tell you that it is no big deal, in this day and age, to get divorced. I would disagree. You are deciding to split from a person that, not too long ago, you made a lifelong commitment to. In that time, you have built a life together: children, pets, property, a home, retirement savings, etc. All the "stuff" that makes up your life you have assembled with the idea that you would be sharing those things with your spouse.
Now that you are moving closer to a divorce, you are forcing yourself to change those plans. This could be for the best- especially if your spouse has been violent or abusive with you and your children, addiction has crept into the relationship, or for a myriad of other reasons. The relationship could have just gotten "stale" and doesn't hold your attention like it once did. Whatever the case may be, understand that divorce is a permanent thing and is not something you should enter into without a great deal of forethought.
Your first step in the divorce process should be to meet with a handful of attorneys to interview them and to learn as much as you can about the divorce process. Like any other important life event, a divorce needs to be studied before you begin the process. You wouldn't travel around the world, have a baby, build a house or do any other complex task without first learning about it, would you? Don't treat divorce as a war that the attorney is going to fight for you.
You are the person getting a divorce. The decisions made within the divorce and the final results of the case impact your life. As such, you should not defer to your attorney just because you are paying them to represent you. The attorney is to guide you through the case and educate you on making good decisions surrounding divorce. Your job is to use that education and apply it to your specific circumstances. You know what is best for yourself and your children. Your attorney may have a clue but does not personally know your family. You do, and you need to be accountable to them by learning about divorce and then selecting an attorney who can help you accomplish your goals.
Filing for divorce- are you divorced yet?
Now that we have reached the part of the case where you file for divorce, it is fair to start wondering whether or not you are divorced yet. If you file for divorce, you will be known in your case as the Petitioner. The document that you will file is known as the Original Petition for Divorce. This document is filed with the county's district clerk, where you or your spouse is a resident.
An Original Petition for Divorce contains all of the essential information about your case. Who you are, who your spouse is, the names of any children under 18, etc. You will also be telling the court whether or not there is any community property to divide in the divorce and any of the other vital circumstances of your case. If you plan to ask for a divorce based on a specific fault ground (infidelity, abandonment, abuse), you will specify this in your Original Petition.
Keep in mind that if you expect your Original Petition to include a laundry list of all of the harmful acts done by your spouse towards you, you will probably be disappointed. A court can remove any language that it determines to be over the top, vulgar, overly detailed information out of a petition. If you intend to file for divorce because your wife has cheated on you, you would need to note that you are basing your divorce on the grounds of adultery. The specific allegations made against her may be relevant in a trial, but the divorce petition is not the place to raise those grievances.
Multiple copies of the Petition and the appropriate filing fee for your county should be filed with the district clerk. The clerk will stamp your Petition to denote the date on which your Petition was filed. After all, your case will be assigned a cause number to distinguish it from all of the other divorces in your county. After that, the patient will be assigned to a particular family court judge. Any legal disputes that cannot be settled between you and your spouse will go to that judge for a decision.
So far, you'll notice that I haven't said anything about being legally divorced yet. That means we need to continue our discussion to determine when you are divorced from your spouse.
Providing notice of the divorce to your spouse
Here is where things get interesting. You can't just file for divorce and then expect your spouse to find out about it via a text message. Instead, once you file your Original Petition for Divorce, you will have a decision to make. Your spouse has a right to be notified of the divorce. You can choose to have him, or her served with the divorce papers by a constable or process server as a first option. The server would pick up your documents from the courthouse, locate your spouse and then present them with the papers. Or, your spouse can sign a waiver of service form and accept the documents directly from you. This would do away with the need to hire someone to serve them.
Whatever method you choose of notifying your spouse of the divorce, the divorce has not officially begun until service is completed. Your spouse will have approximately twenty days to file an answer to your Petition. In that time, they are likely to hire their attorney, prepare themselves for the divorce, file an Answer to your Petition, and then set about building their case to counter yours.
Now that the divorce has officially begun, it is fair to start asking whether you are considered divorced at this stage. After all, the cat's out of the bag now. Your spouse knows you want a divorce and that you have filed the paperwork necessary to get that process started. It would seem like things are on the road towards being done with. True, you are on the road, but you are a long way from being divorced. Let's press on towards the conclusion of your case.
Getting closer to an official divorced status
Filing your divorce papers, receiving a response from your spouse, and beginning to negotiate on all of the crucial areas of your case are all hallmarks of a typical divorce. There are temporary issues that need to be sorted out. Who stays in the family home during the divorce, who pays the bills, who has primary custody of the kids a host of other questions are sorted out in this phase of the case.
As you progress towards the conclusion of your divorce, you will be working through more complex concepts like coming up with a visitation schedule for your kids, dividing up your marital estate, and figuring out what to do with your family home. You and your spouse will have ample opportunity to attempt to negotiate and settle your case. If you are unable to, a judge will intercede and make decisions for you after a trial.
Once you have either settled your case or a judge has made decisions in a trial, your attorney will draft a final decree of divorce. Typically it is the party who files the divorce that will have the fundamental law outlined. It will contain all of the last orders of your case for you and your spouse to refer to after the divorce concludes. Once you, your spouse, your attorneys, and the judge sign the final decree, it is all over with. At that point, you can consider yourself to be officially divorced. Request copies of the order from the district clerk, keep those in your desk drawer, and then move on to the post-divorce phase of your life?
Questions about divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and address your specific circumstances directly. Meeting with an attorney who has experience handling a divorce involving facts like yours is essential to accomplishing your goals. We invite you to learn more about our office and how we can best serve you and your family.