Contested Divorce in Texas: The Five General Phases and What to Expect
Divorce in Texas will typically be categorized as either contested (with or without children) or uncontested (with or without children). As the name suggests, an uncontested divorce means the spouses agree to the terms of the divorce, have likely discussed and agreed to a parenting plan (if there are children involved), and have agreed to the basic terms of a settlement agreement. A contested divorce means that the spouses do not agree to some or all the terms of the divorce which can result in a highly complex legal divorce process. This article will cover (generally) what a contested divorce in Texas involves.
If you know or suspect that you might have a contested divorce, we strongly suggest that you hire a Texas divorce attorney and do not attempt to handle the process alone (often referred to as prose or, without legal representation). Preparation of complex paperwork and a strong working knowledge of Texas divorce law and civil procedure are necessary skills to have on your side if you want to win your case. Without them, you are likely to face some very stressful challenges on top of what is already a difficult time in your life.
Contested divorces can often be expensive so we encourage you to shop around for attorneys who offer financing and/or “unbundled” services, breaking the process into milestones and paying for it piece by piece rather than having to come up with a large deposit or retainer. The Dallas divorce attorneys at Martin Oostdyk offer both of these options to our clients.
Phase One: Filing and Serving the Texas Divorce Paperwork
The Texas contested divorce process begins when you file an Original Petition for Divorce with the courthouse in the county where you reside. You and your attorney might also decide that you need to ask the court to issue temporary orders while the divorce process unfolds. These requests can include temporary restraining orders, a hearing for child support, or temporary child custody agreements, to name a few. The documents will then be served upon your spouse, formally notifying them of your intent and requests.
Phase 2: Temporary Orders Hearing
The next phase in a Texas contested divorce process will be a hearing to finalize the requests you asked of the court when filing; the temporary orders. At this hearing, you and your attorney along with your spouse and their attorney will present your cases and any evidence (including witnesses) that supports your case and your requests for temporary orders.
The wonderful thing about temporary family law orders in Texas contested divorces is that the court will ensure that you and your spouse have clear expectations and guidelines through the process of your Texas divorce for how to handle things like bill payments, child custody, or even who will live in the family home.
Phase 3: Negotiation and Settlement
A requirement of a contested divorce in Texas is that you and your spouse (and your attorneys) try to settle your disagreements at a mediation. At mediation, you and your spouse will be at one location in separate rooms while an independent (and unbiased) attorney goes between rooms to achieve an agreement you can both live with. In an ideal world, your Texas contested divorce will end here and not go to trial.
Phase 4: Discovery
If you and your spouse were not able to reach an agreement during mediation, you will likely go through a process called discovery. This is where both parties are legally required to provide the other, financial statements and other requested information such as tax returns, credit reports, or employment agreements. The purpose of the discovery process in a Texas contested divorce is to ensure that both parties have a complete and thorough picture of their spouse’s financial and employment status. Your attorney will include some or all of this information along with various other exhibits (documents that support your position) when writing their trial documents and arguments in support of the outcome you want.