Houston Divorce Attorney
Experienced Divorce Lawyers Serving Harris County, TX
Beginning the divorce process can require a leap of faith. Learning all there is to know in a divorce and being able to manage your expectations can take time. Fortunately for you, this is not something that you have to do on your own. By choosing to work with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan in your divorce case you can focus on your family, your property, and goal setting. We have the experience and tenacity that you need to succeed in your specific case. We tailor our representation of you based on your family, your needs, and your goals.
With so much at stake in your case, we understand that you are looking for guidance and a helping hand. Our attorneys are service-oriented. We want to make sure that you have the best experience possible in the divorce as possible. That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges in your case, however. The main difference is that when you work with one of our attorneys you will find that we can walk with you through those challenges and adjust to them rather than be overcome by them.
Starting the divorce: Filing an Original Petition for Divorce
Did you know that the process of filing for divorce is a lot simpler than most people think? It’s true. An Original Petition for Divorce is the document that will begin your divorce case. This is not a complex document, but you must understand what it accomplishes on your behalf. The Original Petition for Divorce initiates the divorce case and introduces the court to you and your family. Depending upon the county where you reside, it may be a district court, county court, or county court at law where you will need to file your case.
What is jurisdiction and why does it matter to your case?
A court can acquire jurisdiction over your divorce so long as you or your spouse have lived in Texas for at least the past six months and in the county where you are filing your case for at least the past ninety days. Please note that you can file a divorce in a county where you have resided for these lengths of time but that your spouse can also file a divorce in the county where he or she has resided as well.
One of the important questions that many people ask our attorneys at the outset of their case is where to start. You may know that you need to get divorced but have no idea how to get to the starting line. Don’t worry- take a deep breath and allow one of our attorneys to help you along the path toward a successful divorce. You will need to file your Original Petition for Divorce in the county which has jurisdiction over your case. Jurisdiction means the ability of the court to hear arguments and to issue orders. Right from the start one of the most crucial questions that you will need to answer is: where do I file my case?
How to proceed if you are the spouse who didn’t file the divorce
Once an Original Petition for Divorce has been filed the next step in the process will be for the non-filing spouse to file an Answer in response to the Original Petition. An Answer can be a relatively simple document that contains a general denial of the allegations made in the Original Petition. The spouse who files an Answer may also wish to file a Counterpetition for Divorce if he or she is interested in making additional requests for relief from the court. An Answer needs to be filed by the first Monday after 20 days have expired from the date on which the Respondent spouse was served with the Original Petition.
The Waiver of Service: Key to the uncontested divorce
An alternative to filing an Answer is to file a Waiver of Service. In a Waiver of Service, a spouse can acknowledge their right to be personally served with the Original Petition but is instead waiving that right. Instead, the responding spouse can file a Waiver which will not waive their right to be notified of any future court dates. What it does allow the responding spouse to do is to begin to jump in immediately to the negotiation process in the divorce. Typically, uncontested divorces are started by one spouse filing an Original Petition and the other filing a Waiver of Service in response to that Petition being filed.
An uncontested divorce is a great goal to have for your case. However, it is difficult to achieve this goal unless you and your spouse have reached agreements on all issues in your case. This doesn’t mean that you’ve almost reached agreements on most issues. Rather, it means that you and your spouse must have settled all issues in your case including those regarding property division, child custody, conservatorship, visitation, and possession of your children. This is not the most likely position to find yourself in. Negotiation before the divorce even begins may be necessary in an instance like this.
Discovery- learn your spouse’s case
Discovery involves sending your spouse a request for information about their case. You will use this information to help make decisions during the negotiation phase of your case. You will be asking for a preview of the evidence that your spouse plans to submit at trial. The better prepared you can be for negotiations the less likely it will be that you need to proceed to a trial at the end of your case.
Examples of the different types of discovery requests that can be submitted by your spouse are requests for disclosures, requests for admission, interrogatories, and requests for production. Answering these requests from your spouse can be time-consuming and difficult. Working with an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can help tip the scales of your case in favor of you.
Discovery is an important part of your case. It is also a very difficult part of your case. Crafting well-worded questions that cannot be objected to is essential to receiving good information from your spouse. Being able to object properly to poorly worded questions and those that ask for privileged information is an important part of playing a good “defense” when it comes to discovery. Having an attorney available to help you perform both important roles is a major advantage in a divorce case. An experienced family law attorney can save you time and money in the discovery process and can help you achieve a great deal of success, as well.
No fault versus fault grounds in a Texas divorce- why it matters
Texas is a “no-fault” divorce state. What this means is that you can get divorced in Texas for no reason at all. Simply state in your Original Petition for Divorce that you and your spouse are experiencing a discord or conflict of personalities with no opportunity for reconciliation and that is all it takes to get divorced. In simple terms, this is what a no-fault divorce boils down to. You can get divorced from your spouse because you don’t like the way that he chews his dinner, in other words.
On the other hand, there are fault grounds that you can tap into and plead in your petition or counterpetition for divorce. Why plead for fault grounds when you can get divorced for no reason at all? You can gain advantages in the divorce, both in property division and conservatorship issues, if you can successfully prove that a particular fault ground led directly to your divorce. Examples of fault grounds in Texas are abandonment, cruel treatment, and adultery.
Let’s say that your spouse committed adultery and that led to you filing for divorce. If you can show that your spouse’s adulterous behavior led to him spending a lot of your community estate on their significant other, then you may be in line to have that money reimbursed into your community estate. On top of that, you could stand to win a disproportionate share of the community estate- meaning more than half.
When it comes to conservatorship and child custody, a fault ground like adultery can make a difference when it comes to assigning parental rights and duties. In many ways, fault grounds matter when it comes to conservatorship issues because they can show a lack of judgment. Bringing your significant other around your children, for example, is one such way that your spouse’s negative behavior can impact the children. Prove this sort of fault ground for divorce and you can win primary custody of the kids.
There is a major difference between alleging a fault ground in your divorce and being able to prove a particular fault ground. This takes evidence- documents, photographs, medical records. Collecting this evidence and then piecing it together in a way that can withstand objections from your spouse takes some time and effort. This is where having an experienced attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can pay major dividends for you.
Temporary spousal support
Does the following situation sound familiar to you: staying in a failing marriage because you are unsure about how you are going to be able to support yourself after the divorce is over? Maybe you have not worked in many years because you were a stay-at-home spouse and parent. It could be that you are disabled and not able to work. Or you are the main caretaker for a child who is disabled and unable to work. Whatever your situation may be, it begs the question: can you receive financial support from your spouse while you wait for the end of a divorce?
The answer: yes, you can. This is otherwise known as temporary spousal support. Temporary spousal support can be negotiated from the very beginning of your case. Here is what temporary spousal support can do for you: 1) help you pay your bills while the divorce case is ongoing 2) help you pay your mortgage while the divorce case is ongoing 3) help you keep food in your fridge while the divorce case is ongoing. Notice that I did not say that temporary spousal support is there to help you live the lifestyle to which you had become accustomed. This is not in the cards as far as temporary spousal support is concerned.
You can ask for temporary spousal support in your petition or counterpetition for divorce. Usually, this is done in the form of asking for temporary orders and then stating that temporary spousal support is necessary for you to subsist and provide for yourself and your child while the divorce is ongoing. It may mean that you need to go back to school or start looking for work. If you are interested in receiving spousal maintenance then this is usually a pre-condition for receiving this type of award in your divorce trial.
How does spousal support work after a divorce?
When it comes to post-divorce spousal support there are two types that we are going to discuss: spousal maintenance and contractual alimony. Spousal maintenance is based on statutory law that allows for a person to be paid money by an ex-spouse due to their having proven that he or she is unable to meet their minimal, basic needs without this kind of financial support. Again, having evidence that spousal maintenance is necessary is crucial to being able to receive an award.
Again, showing that you have a disability or that you are caring for a child with a disability can be another way that you can be awarded spousal maintenance in a divorce. Awards of spousal maintenance are only ordered for as long as a judge believes that it is necessary but never to last more than ten years. Your experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can help you build a case to increase the likelihood that you would be paid spousal maintenance.
Spousal maintenance can only be ordered by a court after a trial. Bear this in mind as you consider what your options are for helping to support yourself after your divorce is over. This means that you would have passed up on opportunities to settle your case and instead and pushed forward to a trial. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good idea. However, what it should mean is that the subject of spousal maintenance is so important as to require a trial.
Are you a good candidate to receive spousal maintenance? Look at your case and then decide to see if one of these factors is present: 1) you and your spouse have been married for at least ten years 2) you can prove in court that you will be unable to meet your minimal, basic needs from a financial perspective after the divorce 3) you have made attempts and shown due diligence during the divorce as far as trying to find suitable employment. These are the criteria that a court will look to when determining whether to order spousal maintenance.
Another separate criterion is that of family violence in your home. If you or your children have been the victim of family violence due to your spouse’s behavior and that crime took place less than two years before the divorce was filed, then that alone is a suitable situation for spousal maintenance to be filed. Your spouse must have been found guilty of this crime or received deferred adjudication.
There is another avenue to pursue as far as post-divorce spousal support is concerned. That option is known as contractual alimony. As the name indicates contractual alimony has more to do with contract law than it does with family law. This is significant for you to consider in that if disputes arise in the future, then a family court would apply principles of contract law to the case rather than the Texas Family Code.
Contractual alimony cannot be ordered by a judge. Rather, you and your spouse would need to come to an agreement on alimony during negotiations. The sort of limitations on spousal maintenance under Texas law do not apply to contractual alimony. This means that you can negotiate for more money over a longer period under contractual alimony than under spousal maintenance.
When can an ex-spouse stop paying spousal maintenance?
There are a few different scenarios where an order for spousal maintenance could come to an end. First, if either spouse passes away then the obligation to pay and the right to receive spousal maintenance comes to an end. This is not something where you can list your estate as the recipient of future payments after you die. Once you or your ex-spouse are no longer with us then there is no further obligation for those payments to keep coming.
Cohabitation is an interesting position to try and argue as far as why spousal maintenance should be stopped. Termination of spousal maintenance due to cohabitation is a valid reason to motion the court to terminate the maintenance. However, the tricky part about this is that you are going to need to prove cohabitation with a romantic partner. While you may be thinking that this can’t be that difficult, I would have to disagree.
Living together under one roof can be simple to prove if both your ex-spouse and their significant other are listed as the owners of the home on a deed. However, this may not be the case in your situation. In that case, you would need to be able to show that your ex-spouse and this other person are living together by showing that both receive mail at the home, share utilities at the home or have no other lease agreements or mortgages for any other residence. Proving cohabitation can be more complex than it sounds. Therefore, hiring an experienced family law attorney is the best way to help prepare your case when cohabitation needs to be proven.
Finally, if your ex-spouse has remarried (including you) then your obligation to pay spousal maintenance should not be extended. An interesting aspect of this discussion is that contractual alimony could potentially put you in a position where, if you are the spouse who will be paying alimony, you could end up paying alimony to an ex-spouse even after she gets married. Always put thought into what you are signing so that no issues are moving forward with contractual alimony.
Conservatorship issues in Texas divorce cases
Undoubtedly, you are familiar with the term “custody” as it pertains to children. Custody is a catch-all term used by parents, attorneys, and judges to refer to issues in a family law case that relate to children. Custody is a short word that is used to generally refer to several different concepts in Texas family law. You may have used the terms split custody, sole custody, or primary custody to describe how you envision this part of your divorce going.
Even though custody may be the term that we like to use in the context of a family law case, it may come to surprise you that custody is not a word that you would see in the Texas Family Code even one time. Rather, the term that is more specific to family law and is utilized within the Family Code over and over is conservatorship. Conservatorship refers to the rights and duties of one person over another. In this context, we use conservatorship to refer to the rights and duties that you as a parent have concerning your child.
Of those rights and duties, two of the most important are the right to determine the primary residence of your child and the duty to pay child support. These two rights are connected. A parent who is named as the primary conservator of a child can determine the home of the child. Additionally, that parent will receive child support during and after the divorce. As a result, this tends to be one of the parts of a case that is most contentious in the entire case.
Situations that involve the rights and duties of children can be overlooked in a divorce. Parents will focus so much on the amount of time that they can spend with their children that they will neglect areas having to do with how their children are raised and the rights associated with them. Do not let this be you. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are skilled advocates and know how to develop a strategy with you to help place sufficient focus on all areas of your divorce case.
Child support in the context of a divorce case
Child support is another subject that often becomes contentious in a divorce case. For better or worse, parents in your position may feel like the divorce is the end of their relationship with their co-parent. There is a great deal of finality to a divorce, so this feeling is understandable. However, the reality of the situation is that your relationship with your co-parent is just beginning once you engage in the divorce process.
There are guideline levels of child support contained in the Texas Family Code. These guidelines consider how many children you have before the court, and the net monthly income of the parent paying child support, and then calculate a child support amount based on those two factors. For many families in Texas, this calculation method works well. However, there are two situations where special attention needs to be paid to the payment and calculation of child support.
For one, you need to be able to determine the appropriate amount of monthly income for the parent who will be paying child support. This is true whether you are the parent who pays or receives child support. If you plan on paying child support, then the last thing you want to do is put yourself in a position where your net monthly income is not calculated correctly. Additionally, if you are the parent who will be receiving child support you will need to ensure that all sources of income for your co-parent are fairly considered.
Another child support-specific circumstance that the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to bring to your attention is related to special needs children. If your child has a special medical, psychological, or other need then those needs should be reflected in the amount of child support that is ordered in your case. These medical needs can add to the monthly expenses of your child. In some circumstances, there may be consistent costs that can be dealt with directly within the child support.
Be sure to act with diligence when it comes to child support. This is a subject that can seriously impact both the best interests of your child as well as your household budget. The attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to assist you with your child support needs. We offer not only an effective courtroom presentation on your behalf but also have a keen eye for detail so that no stone is left unturned in helping you reach an appropriate amount of child support.
Final mediation and trial representation
Many times, the last steps of a divorce case center around final mediation or a trial. Make no mistake- the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are skilled and experienced courtroom advocates. We utilize our decades of combined experience and a thorough knowledge of the Texas Rules of Evidence to present effective cases for our clients in trials across southeast Texas. Judges in our area know that when an attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan steps foot in their courtroom our attorneys will act professionally and ethically.
Our attorneys will work with you in preparing for a trial. We want our clients to know that we are walking alongside them in their divorce. You will be a crucial partner with your attorney as you develop evidence, prepare questions for witnesses, and generally prepare for what a very important day is. You will be aware of the steps taken by our attorneys and staff. We are diligent about responding to questions and considering your needs in the lead-up to a trial. We serve our clients’ goals and place their interests first.
Although a trial is possible in your case it is not the only possible outcome. Rather, final mediation is a setting where your case may reach its conclusion. Mediation allows you and your spouse to create settlements together with your attorneys and an experienced family law mediator. Mediation will allow you and your spouse to mutually agree to name a mediator to oversee formal settlement negotiations in your case. While you attend mediation settlement offers can be exchanged, information can be discussed and a valuable perspective into the thinking and planning of your spouse can be gained.
A mediator will act as a go-between for you and your spouse in the divorce negotiation process. Rather than relying upon your attorneys to do the communicating for you, a mediator acts as a neutral third party during this process. The mediator can help fine-tune settlement offers and thoroughly understand the divorce and trial process. As they say: deadlines spur action. This is one of the many reasons why mediation is so effective at helping people just like you settle rather than proceed to trial in their divorce. Mediation also allows you and your spouse to take control of your divorce. Remember- nobody knows your marriage better than you and your spouse.
Learn more about the Law Office of Bryan Fagan by setting up a free-of-charge consultation
Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. We can arrange for a free-of-charge consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys either in person, over the phone, or via video. We are proud to serve our communities across Texas and look forward to meeting with you.
- Frequently Asked Questions in Texas Divorce Cases
- 49 Best Texas Divorce Advice Tips
- I Divorce You, I Divorce You, I Divorce You – Islamic Divorce and Spring and Houston, TX
Texas Divorce FAQs
Texas family law courts do not have a process for legal separation. If a couple would like to legally separate without officially ending their marriage, they can create their own separation agreement. This would function as a contract and be enforced as such. The family law courts would not enforce the contract.
While the length of a divorce can vary widely depending on its complexity, there is a minimum waiting period of 60 days after the divorce petition is filed before any decree can be made.
Yes, in order to meet the residency requirements, at least one of the spouses must be a Texas resident for 6 consecutive months before the couple can file for divorce in the state. Furthermore, the spouse must also be a resident in the county where the divorce is going to be filed for 90 days or more.
Our Experienced Houston Divorce Attorney Can Help
If you are looking for an attorney who will stop at nothing to advocate on your behalf in or out of court, call the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. The team is committed to doing everything within their power to succeed in securing a satisfactory result for every client.