Getting a divorce in Houston, TX means that you have to follow a pre-set process. The city of Houston is located in Harris County, TX. Some of the suburbs in our area are located in full or in part in the surrounding counties such as Montgomery, Waller, Liberty and Matagorda. Those counties may have specific practices that differ from Harris County. However, generally speaking the process of filing for divorce is largely the same across all counties in Texas.
There are no alternative pathways available to filing for divorce. You don’t get to take advantage of a shortcut if you decide to file for divorce without the assistance of an attorney. Likewise, if you hire an attorney, he or she doesn’t get to push your case to the front of the line. Rather, you need to learn the process and how to best to manage it and your case. Even if you and your spouse have only been married a short period of time you will still need to file for divorce through the Harris County District Clerk is you and your spouse are both Houston residents.
When we talk about getting a divorce that is an entirely different matter than getting a divorce. Filing for divorce means telling the county where either you or your spouse reside that your intent is to legally divorce your spouse. However, in order to take your case from the stage of wanting a divorce to the stage of getting a divorce means that you have to have a plan. To have a plan to have to have some knowledge.
That is where the Law Office of Bryan Fagan comes into play. Our office would like to share with you some of the knowledge that you will need to file for divorce in Harris County. Keep in mind that filing for divorce is the first step towards getting a divorce. Even if your case is “simple” or “straightforward” there will be multiple steps that you will need to be aware of. We will touch on those subjects, as well, in this blog post.
The district clerk’s role in the divorce filing process
Step one in filing for divorce is figuring out where you need to file your case. For most spouses in Houston, TX the place to file your divorce will be with the Harris County District Clerk’s office. If you reside in a suburb of Houston you may need to file with the Montgomery, Matagorda, Galveston, Waller, etc. district clerk. The district clerk is in charge of receiving, processing and assigning lawsuits to the appropriate court. Administrative matters associated with the legal system are handled by the district clerk of your home county.
In order for a court in Harris County (or Matagorda, Waller, etc.) to have jurisdiction over your divorce, either you or your spouse must have been residents of that county for at least the past ninety days prior to filing for divorce. Overall, either of you must have been residents of the State of Texas for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce. Proof of residency (if it comes to that) can be established by rental/lease agreements utility bills, the deed to a home, etc.
Once you have determined where you are able to file for divorce based on the aforementioned discussion on jurisdiction, you would then need to learn the process that goes into filing for divorce. The district clerk in Harris County has tried to make this as simple a process as possible. To wit, all filings of divorce cases are to be done online. If an internet connection or access to the internet are an issue for you there are attorneys available at the courthouse downtown in Houston who can provide further guidance to you on this.
Filing an Original Petition for Divorce- The starting point for filing your divorce
Assuming that you have determined how to get the documents in your case electronically filed, your first step is to draft an Original Petition for Divorce. As the name of this document probably indicated to you, this is the first document that is filed in a divorce case. It introduces you, your spouse, your children (if you have any) and any other integral information to the court system. The district clerk will review your petition for divorce and will then assign your case to one of the family court judges in Harris County.
You will need to file an original copy online and then pay for two copies to be made. One of those copies will need to be sent to your spouse in order to notify them of your filing the divorce lawsuit. A Civil Case Information Sheet will need to be filled out by you and then filed along with your Original Petition for Divorce.
Get your paperwork ready and go to the District Clerk
You may be able to file for divorce in person as well as filing online. You would go to the second floor of the courthouse located at 201 Caroline Street in downtown Houston, TX. There will be one of the district clerk’s employees who will be available to accept the petition for divorce and whatever the filing fees are the at the time you decide to file for divorce. It is likely that the filing fees will be approximately $300.
Once the clerk reviews the paperwork they will be accepted and then stamped with the seal of the district clerk. At that stage your case will be assigned to one of the family courts in Harris County. Now you have a divorce case rather than just an intent to file for divorce from your spouse.
Do you need to serve your spouse with notice of the lawsuit?
At this stage in the process, I assume that your spouse will not know of your intent to file for divorce. Sometimes spouses discuss doing so before hand but for the most part it is not a topic of conversation. The clerk at the courthouse will ask you whether or not you need to serve your spouse with the papers that you have filed. You should do your best to file for divorce in the morning because there will be volunteer lawyers at the courthouse building on the first floor of the Harris County Law Library who can help you with the next stages of your case.
What happens after you file for divorce and serve your spouse with notice of the lawsuit?
This is the stage where you need to figure out what path your case needs to go down. Path number one involves hiring a private process server or constable to pick up your paperwork from the courthouse, locate your spouse and then personally serve him or her with notice of your lawsuit. Obviously, your spouse needs to know that you have filed for divorce in order for you to get divorced. You can’t just get a divorce and then text your spouse about it later on. He or she has a right to be notified of the lawsuit in person.
Path number two that you may choose to go down involves you and your spouse discussing the divorce ahead of time and your spouse agreeing to sign a document known as a waiver of service. A waiver of service allows your spouse to waive their right to be served personally with notice of the lawsuit. Signing the form does not waive their right to negotiate the terms of the divorce, nor does it waive their right to be notified of court dates. All it does is tell the court that he or she is fine with you presenting him or her the documents that you just filed with the clerk.
Typically, a person will only agree to sign a waiver of service if yours is intended to be a divorce that is uncontested or virtually uncontested. An uncontested divorce means that you have no children, no property and will not be asking for spousal support, alimony or maintenance from your spouse. No kids plus no money plus no disagreements equals uncontested divorce in Houston, TX and Texas as a whole. However, if you have kids, property, a community estate that needs to be divided and any disagreements with your spouse then yours will be a contested divorce.
Assuming that yours will be a contested divorce you will likely have to serve your spouse with notice of the lawsuit. Hiring a process server costs money as does hiring a constable to do the job for you. You will need to let the process server/constable know where he or she is likely to find your spouse. Typically, you will want to serve your spouse at your home when you are not there. Serving him or her at their place of employment is a good way to really upset and embarrass your spouse. Not a good way to begin divorce negotiations.
I am willing to bet that your spouse will hire an attorney once he or she is served. If you think that you can go about your divorce the amicable way with your spouse, then you may need to rethink that. In the event that your spouse does hire a lawyer it would behoove you to do the same. An attorney will not “go easy on you” and the judge will not take pity on you if you are unrepresented and your spouse has an attorney.
Consider hiring an attorney in order to file your Houston, TX divorce
Here is the part of the blog post where I make a pitch for you to hire a divorce attorney instead of attempting to file your own divorce case. The reality of the situation is that the divorce process is not set up for you to go about the divorce without an attorney. You can certainly try to do it. There is no law against you representing yourself in a divorce. In fact, yours may be one of the few divorces where there is so little at stake that it is worthwhile for you to try and represent yourself if that is what you want to do. You should do your homework, read as much as you can and prepare to make some mistakes. It’s not every day that you file for divorce and you should expect that you will do something wrong along the way.
For everyone else, you should think strongly about hiring an experienced family law attorney to represent you in your divorce. To file for divorce means to start a long process that can impact your life in significant ways. If you have children, then their lives and your own can be impacted in significant ways. It is not a sign of weakness or lack of intelligence for you to hire an attorney. Rather, I would tell you that it is a sign of maturity that you are willing to put your pride aside to do something that it is in your best interests.
Hiring an attorney does not mean that you will antagonize your spouse or encourage him or her to be more aggressive with you. Rather, hiring an attorney means that you will be better advised of your options throughout the case. Filing a divorce in Houston, TX means that you have got to start thinking long term rather than short term. You can be price conscious, budget aware and a vigilant advocate for your rights by hiring a divorce attorney.
If you have questions about the material that we posted on our blog today 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for our staff to answer your questions and directly address the issues impacting your life. We appreciate your time and attention today and invite you to join us tomorrow as we continue to discuss important issues related to Texas family law.