Maybe you have thought long and hard about the future of your marriage and have finally decided that it's time for a divorce. Or maybe you are just looking for information about filing for divorce in case you decide to take this route in the future. Either way, you are smart to research the process so you know what to expect and how to prepare.
This article will discuss how to file for divorce in Texas, whether you need a divorce lawyer and how to find one, and how much it costs to file for divorce in Texas.
How you go about filing for divorce will depend on whether you have a lawyer, so let's focus on that topic first.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce in Texas?
Most people going through a divorce choose to have a lawyer represent them because it is a formal legal process that can be confusing and intimidating for nonlawyers. Also, a divorce deals with the most important and valuable aspects of your life: kids, real estate, and financial accounts. You need to make sure that your rights and your future are protected so that you end up with a fair outcome.
The Texas Office of Court Administration recommends that anyone going through divorce should consult with a family law attorney, but it is especially important to do so if any of the following apply to your case:
- You and your spouse do not agree on divorce issues such as division of community property, child custody, child support, or spousal support (alimony)
- There is domestic violence or threats of domestic violence in your case
- Your spouse is being represented by a lawyer
- You or your spouse has valuable community property like a house, retirement account, business, or other assets
- You or your spouse has a lot of debt
- You will need alimony (spousal support) to support yourself after the divorce
- You or your spouse has filed for bankruptcy or plans to file for bankruptcy
- You have a child with special needs
- You have a child from the marriage but you are not legally recognized as the parent (such as in a same-sex marriage)
With that said, you are not required to have an attorney to file for divorce in Texas. Many people with simple, uncontested divorce cases choose to file for divorce on their own.
How to File for Divorce in Texas Without a Lawyer
If you are representing yourself in your divorce, the first thing you will do is to assess whether your case will be contested or uncontested.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
In an uncontested divorce, the parties agree on everything, from how community property should be divided to what their parenting plan should look like. A divorce is considered contested if the spouses have one or more issues that they do not agree on.
If your divorce is likely going to be uncontested, this is the least expensive and less stressful route. Typically, you will work with your spouse to complete all of the necessary divorce forms and submit them to the District Clerk's Office at your local county courthouse. Once again, it's wise to have an attorney at least review your divorce agreement to make sure you are not missing anything.
If your divorce is contested, it will probably take a little longer and involve a little more stress, but it is still possible to complete the process on your own as long as you are aware of the drawbacks to not having a lawyer's help.
Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
Another factor to consider is whether you will file for a no-fault or a fault-based divorce. A fault divorce requires you to prove that your spouse was at fault for your divorce. The state of Texas has many grounds for fault-based divorce, and there are also defenses to these allegations.
In a no-fault divorce, no blame is required. Instead, the court issues the divorce on the grounds of insupportability, meaning that the marriage is insufferable, intolerable, or no longer endurable.
Whether you file for a fault or no-fault divorce can significantly impact the outcome of your case. For example, you could get a greater share of the community property in a fault-based divorce, while community property division is usually close to 50-50 in no-fault divorces.
If you are unsure whether to file for fault or no-fault divorce, it's a good idea to get legal advice from a divorce lawyer.
Filing for Divorce
Once you are ready to file for divorce, complete the Original Petition for Divorce carefully and completely. Make two copies, then bring the original and two copies to the District Clerk's Office at your local county courthouse.
You (or your spouse) must have lived in the county for at least 90 days in order to meet the residency requirement.
Filing the petition is what formally begins the divorce process. Your case will be file-stamped by the clerk and assigned a cause number and a judicial district. The court clerk will give you back two copies of the petition. You hang on to one (keep it in a safe place) and the other must be served on your spouse.
Serving Your Spouse
There are two methods of serving your spouse:
In-person service: You can pay a sheriff, constable, process server or clerk to serve your spouse. This costs a fee unless you have been granted a fee waiver. The process server will provide you with a Return of Service affidavit that you file with the clerk as proof that your spouse was served a copy of the petition.
Waiver of service: If your spouse doesn't want to be served and agrees to not contest the divorce, they can sign a Waiver of Service to acknowledge they have been served with the petition and have been informed about the divorce proceedings. The wavier of service must be signed in front of a notary.
Wait for Your Spouse's Answer
If your spouse is going to actively participate in the case, such as by contesting the divorce, they can file an Answer. The Answer must be filed by the Monday after the 20th day following the legal service.
If this does not happen, you can request a default judgment, which means the court can award the divorce without your spouse's involvement. However, Texas law requires that 60 days must have passed between the day you filed the petition before the final decree can be issued. Note: There is an exemption to the 60-day waiting period for cases involving domestic violence.
As you can see, filing for divorce is complicated, and this is only the beginning of the divorce process. Numerous steps must be taken to figure out and finalize the terms of the divorce. These steps may include:
Because divorce can be such a long and complex process, most people find that using a divorce lawyer is much preferred over trying to navigate the process alone.
How to Find a Divorce Attorney in Texas
Some people use referrals from friends of family members to find a divorce lawyer. However, it's important to research and meet with a few lawyers before you decide who will represent you so that you make sure to find a lawyer who is a good fit.
Lawyer directories like the ones linked below can help you sort through local attorneys. They provide links to each firm's website so you can read about the firm and see if you would like to set up an initial consultation.
Divorce Lawyers in Houston
Divorce Lawyers in Dallas
Divorce Lawyers in San Antonio
Divorce Lawyers in Texas
Many times, you can use law firm and attorney websites to get to know an attorney and the approach they take in divorce cases. You can also look for information on whether they offer free initial consultations, where their offices are located, and any reviews they have from former clients.
How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce in Texas?
When you file for divorce in Texas, you will be required to pay a filing fee of between $250 to $300. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can complete an Affidavit of Inability of Pay. You will disclose your financial information and the court will decide if you can be excused from paying court fees based on your financial status.
Beyond filing fees, there are additional divorce costs you can expect to incur. Other court fees may be assessed, such as service fees or copy fees. You will also have to pay the professionals who help you resolve you divorce such as your divorce attorney, a mediator, or a custody evaluator.
If your case goes to trial, though, the costs really add up. Preparing for and going to trial can costs tens of thousands of dollars. Appealing a divorce ruling can cost even more. Essentially, the more conflict you have in your divorce, the more you can expect it to cost. However, the good news is that most Texas divorces settle out of court.
If you are worried about the cost of divorce, ask your divorce lawyer about ways of keeping costs down. They may have suggestions like doing some of the document preparation yourself or only getting their help on certain things (known as limited-scope representation).