The middle portion of your divorce will be a time that you can spend with your spouse in negotiation for both temporary and final orders. Many people have a misconception about what divorce actually means. They will assume that a divorce, once filed, is a mandate to meet in court with your spouse and fight tooth and nail over issues as diverse as your children and your property. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The vast majority of divorce cases in Texas settle long before it is time to see a judge for a trial.
Temporary Orders is the first phase in your divorce case that affords you and your spouse the opportunity to put your differences aside and come to an agreement on the issues of your case. This does not mean that you have to “back down” on the things that are the most important to you in your case. This does not mean that you will have to forget about the past that led to your divorce being filed in the first place. All it means is that you and your spouse will need to come to understand that nobody is in a better position than either of you to hammer out a plan for leading the next years of your life.
You, your spouse or the court may request that a hearing for temporary orders be established at the outset of your divorce. This hearing for temporary orders would allow you and your spouse to present arguments to a judge in order so that he or she can issue decisions that will impact your case and your lives. Dividing up time with your children, deciding who can remain in the family home, how much child support (if any) will be paid as well as who will be paying the various bills of your household.
You can look at these decisions as the ground rules for your divorce. Not only will you have your marching orders in regard to your children and your bills, but you will be notified of what you can and cannot do in relation to other areas of your life. For instance, you will likely not be able to spend money on item beyond essentials for your family and your legal representation. This will prevent you or your spouse from wasting marital property while the divorce is ongoing.
Mediation and its impact on temporary orders
Before reaching a courtroom for a contested hearing, you and your spouse will attend mediation to see if an agreement can be reached. Mediation is a process whereby you and your spouse choose (with the help of your attorneys) an independent family law attorney to meet with to discuss your case. The mediator will have you and your spouse in different rooms at their office. The mediator will then walk back and forth in between your rooms in an effort to communicate settlement offers and hopefully help you all reach an agreement.
If a settlement can be reached, the mediator will take the terms of the settlement agreement and list them off in a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). That MSA will then be taken by one of your attorneys and turned into temporary orders that everyone will sign off on. That document will be sent to the judge for their signature. These orders have the same importance as ones that would have been decided by a judge. Temporary orders go into effect as soon as your orders are signed and last until the final orders of your case are signed.
A Temporary Orders Hearing
If you and your spouse cannot settle your case in mediation then it would be set for a temporary orders hearing in front of a judge. A temporary orders hearing resembles a trial in all things. Evidence is offered, testimony is taken and decisions are made for your family by a judge. The decisions made in the hearing are binding upon you and your spouse until the end of your cases when the final decree of divorce goes into effect.
Setting your case for trial
A trial is the final hearing in your case. It will occur at the earliest 61 days after you or your spouse are served with an original petition for divorce. It could happen that you and your spouse reach an agreement on the courthouse steps, thus settling your case. If that is what happens, the final hearing would basically amount to you and your spouse going on the record with the judge and reciting your settlement agreement.
The Final Decree of Divorce
The Final Decree of Divorce is the final orders in a divorce case. This order will do away with all issues that are relevant to your case and will give you the marching orders for you and your spouse to follow after your divorce has been finalized. Community property, child support, child custody, visitation and spousal support are among the issues that can be decided in a your final decree of divorce.
Taking parenting courses in order to complete your divorce
Harris County is among those counties in our area that requires that you attend a parenting course prior to the end of your divorce if you have a child. You will not be able to finalize your case and attend your prove up hearing without both parents having certificates of completion for this class filed beforehand.
The prove up hearing- the end of the road for your case
Once you have a signed and completed final decree of divorce you and your spouse are almost done with your case. Contact the clerk of your court to see if any other documents need to be filed before going to see the judge in your uncontested prove up hearing. Make sure those are filed ahead of time and go ahead and bring copies for the judge to review. In Harris County it is a good idea to have everything filed with the court at least a day in advance. Sometimes if you wait to file the documents until late in the afternoon the day before you attend court they will not be approved fast enough by the clerk to be ready for your hearing the next day.
Most of the time an uncontested docket will be available in the early morning and early afternoon before the regular docket is called in that court. Some courts allow you to sign up online the day before your hearing to schedule a time to appear on the uncontested docket. Most courts are not this technologically advanced so you should plan on going to the clerk’s office to check in and get your name on a list. The judge will then call your name and you and your attorney will stand up and go before the judge.
A prove up hearing is basically an opportunity for the judge to confirm that your divorce decree covers everything that could be relevant to your case. There are a series of yes and no questions that you will be required to answer. Your attorney will likely go over the questions with you beforehand. Once you have covered all the areas necessary to cover the divorce decree, your divorce will be granted by the judge. Your divorce is now over with.
If you do not hire an attorney, here is some advice
I advise people who come to talk to our law office that it is almost always a good idea to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce. You don’t fill your own cavities, do you? Do you even change your own car oil? Then why would you want to get a divorce without the aid of someone who works in that field? Saving money is a valid concern, but a divorce is a relatively inexpensive procedure considering how costly the mistakes can be down the road.
However, if you do not want to hire an attorney you should know the following bits of information as you begin your divorce case:
- Always have copies of the documents filed by you and your spouse. It is a good idea to do so because you can better keep track of the updates in your case and can know exactly what it is that is at issue in your case.
- While you’re at it, have a specific place for all documents associated with your case. Do not mix up court documents with insurance paperwork or school tuition bills. You probably have a lot of paperwork at home that is relevant for your divorce but only a few of them will actually be from the divorce itself. A file cabinet probably isn’t necessary for a relatively simple divorce. A binder or file folder should work just fine.
- When your divorce is over with you should ask the court clerk how to obtain a certified copy of your final decree of divorce. This is the document that you will need in order to transfer accounts from your spouse to you (or vice versa) and may be necessary to change your name if you are a woman who has requested that to be done.
Final thoughts on Texas divorces
I can’t tell you how many people come to talk to our attorneys without first having thought through the long term effects of a divorce. Divorcing your spouse is a serious matter and something that should not be entered into without a great deal of consideration beforehand. Have you attempted to reconcile with your spouse? Have you sat down and talked through the issues that may be pushing you towards divorce? If not, it may be wise to take a step back and reconsider.
If you are a person of faith it is likely that your church, synagogue or other house of worship has counseling available for you. So long as your spouse is willing to attend counseling or therapy you should try to do so until it is apparent that those sessions are not productive any longer. If your spouse is not willing to attend therapy that is a sign that your marriage is headed towards a divorce.
Hiring an attorney to represent you in your divorce is not a process that you should enter into without a great deal of due diligence. Meet with multiple attorneys before hiring one. Remember that you are interviewing attorneys. They need to be able to educate you on the issues of your case and explain them to you so that you feel like you understand what is going on. If the lawyer is laying out all these plans for your case but you cannot make heads or tails about what they are saying then you probably need to focus on hiring another attorney.
Finally, remember that your divorce doesn’t belong to your attorney. Your divorce belongs to you. It is your responsibility to make the decisions in your case and to understand their potential effect on your life moving forward. Hiring the right attorney for you and your case is a good first step towards a achieving successful results in your divorce.
Questions about divorce in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we covered in today’s blog 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 to meet with an attorney and to learn about your case. We offer feedback on your specific situation and allow you to ask questions about anything you would like to learn.
It is a privilege to represent clients in our area and we do so with a great deal of pride. Our attorneys work in every courthouse in southeast Texas and have been doing so for years. Thank you for your consideration and for spending some time with us today.