Answers To Divorce Questions Frequently Asked By Women
We get asked this question all the time. We usually respond with a rhetorical, “Would you do surgery on yourself?” We do not think you should represent yourself in any Court proceeding. However, if there is basically no property other than personal possessions, no children, and all you’re really doing is getting the Court to bless a separation that has already occurred, it may very well be that the downside of a mistake is substantially outweighed by the certainty of attorney’s fees. You should understand that representing yourself will not be easy unless you already have some legal training. Also, you should proceed very cautiously.
You should also be aware that most attorneys will not step in to correct any problems created when you represent yourself (called “pro se” representation). We have seen many situations when a pro se litigant gets to the Court date only to have the Judge deny the divorce because he or she failed to meet all of the procedural requirements. You must also understand that, other than telling you what the defect is, the Judge is unlikely to help because of they are prohibited (as are Court staff generally) from giving legal advice to the parties. If you decide to represent yourself, you must get the most current “do it yourself” package (one set is available at http://www.tyla.org/family_law.html) and make sure that you understand all of the procedures before taking action.
Should I get divorced?
Sometimes people want a lawyer to tell them whether they should get a divorce or not. This is usually not the function of a lawyer and any guidance in this area is a personal opinion, rather than legal advice, so please treat it as such and proceed carefully. However, most attorneys will use their experience to explain the circumstances under which someone may want to proceed with a Divorce and the possible outcomes from such proceedings. Each lawyer will explain it differently, but here are some common situations when we agree that a spouse would be justified in filing for Divorce:
- Physical Abuse – No one should be required to live with the fear of being physically battered when there is a disagreement among spouses;
- Adultery or Cheating on you by your Spouse – Marriage implies an element of exclusivity. Although no one is perfect, if your spouse insists on maintaining relationships outside of marriage, then Divorce would seem appropriate;
- Alcohol or Drugs – Again, no one is perfect, but if the substances control your life (such as interfering with a normal relationship with you, your children, or with work obligations, or results in repeated criminal incidents) then Divorce is understandable.
Oftentimes, people cite to financial problems, mental cruelty, mental or physical problems, or irreconcilable differences, as grounds justifying divorce. Every relationship probably has an element of each of these issues. The question is whether such problems and/or differences destroy the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship. If you have unsuccessfully tried counseling and/or medical intervention, or your spouse is unwilling to obtain help or change, then it is understandable that you want to end the marriage.
How do I file for a Divorce?
A divorce case is initiated like any other lawsuit with the filing of a legal “pleading.” In the Divorce context, this pleading is the Original Petition for Divorce filed in either a District Court or a County Court with domestic relations jurisdiction. Once filed, this Pleading must be served upon the other spouse, unless the other spouse has voluntarily waived service. The spouse who filed the petition is referred to as the “Petitioner.”
I just got served with Divorce papers, what should I do?
After being served with a Divorce Petition, you become the “Respondent” in the Divorce case. Most lawyers will advise you to immediately obtain an attorney and to not agree to anything and certainly don’t sign anything. If you do not respond in writing, with a particular language and within approximately twenty days (actually, by the “Monday next following the expiration of twenty days”), then a Default can be taken against you. At the Default hearing, your spouse will oftentimes receive anything and everything they request in Court.
You should also be aware that many “Waivers of Service” also contain language instructing that the case can be taken up and considered by the Judge without further notice to you. A form containing this language, if signed, could also result in a Default being taken against you with everything going to your spouse. You should review all proposed waivers with caution, since you definitely don’t want this result!
Can I get a legal separation?
Although some states recognize a “legal separation,” Texas does not. The only procedure for a recognition that persons are going to cease living together as husband and wife in Texas is Divorce. With that said, after you file for a Divorce there is nothing that requires you to carry through with it (unless, of course, the other spouse decides to file a Counter-Petition for Divorce of their own). Usually, the Divorce case can be dismissed if the spouses “reconcile.”
I just moved here, can I still get a Divorce?
Maybe. It depends on where you moved from and how long you have lived here. Texas has a residency requirement. At least one spouse must have resided in this State for the preceding six month period prior to the filing of the Divorce case, and one spouse must have resided in the County where the Divorce will be filed at least ninety days preceding the date of filing. This is “jurisdictional,” meaning that the Court has no power to act, including granting the Divorce, unless the residency requirement is met.
Can I move after the Divorce case is filed?
Ordinarily, yes. As long as you were a resident of Texas for at least six months and of the County where you filed for ninety days before filing the Divorce petition, then you can move after the petition is filed. However, you should be aware that many Courts have “local rules” requiring notice and possibly agreement from the other spouse (or an order from the Court) before you can move out of the County where the Divorce petition was filed, particularly when children are involved. You should also check to see if a Temporary Restraining Order, Temporary Injunction, or some geographical restriction is in place before you leave.
It is generally a good idea to wait to move until after the case is finalized, and we strongly suggest at least waiting until service of process is obtained to be sure that the case does not have to be dismissed. However, if relocation is absolutely necessary prior to the time the Divorce becomes “final,” there are procedures that allow you to legally do so.
How does the Texas waiting period work?
The Court does not have the power to grant a Divorce for at least sixty days after the Divorce petition has been filed. The Texas Legislature’s reason for requiring this waiting period is to ensure that something as serious as a Divorce is not rushed into without a period of reflection and thought. This waiting period cannot be waived by agreement or shortened by the Court.
When does my Divorce become final?
Although this might seem like a simple question, the answer is more complex. Ordinarily, the Divorce case becomes final when the “plenary power” of the Texas court has expired. This ordinarily occurs thirty days from the date that the Divorce Decree (sometimes called the “Judgment”) is signed by the Judge. If, however, some type of Motion is filed after the Decree is signed, such as a Motion for New Trial or similar pleading, then the time periods are extended to allow for the possibility of an appeal from the Decree.
Although there are other situations where the Decree can be changed, clarified, or appealed, these situations are not normal and can be very difficult to bring about a substantive (or meaningful) change in the Decree. Also, when a “material and substantial” change in circumstances occurs, a party may ask that the Court modify the Divorce Decree or a prior order in the case.
What exactly is a Divorce Decree?
We usually ask you to consider the Divorce Decree in terms of being a “Rule Book” for all of the various things that could or might happen after the Divorce is granted. The actual granting of the Divorce is nothing more than the Judge declaring that the marriage is dissolved for either “grounds” or on the “no-fault” ground of supportability. Insupportability just means that there are so-called “irreconcilable differences” — referred to in Texas as a “discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship,” provided further that “there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”
The rest of the Decree (as well as other pleadings referred to as Temporary Orders or Final Orders) provides guidelines and rules for dealing with any children (such as custody or “conservatorship,” the powers of conservatorship, visitation, child support, medical support, and health insurance coverage), property (such as assets and debts), and various other issues such as any change of name, taxes, and similar matters.
How does Custody work in Texas?
In Texas, there are many forms of “custody” and “custodians.” We refer to these persons or entities (in the case of foster care, etc.) as “conservators.” In most situations, the parents will be named so-called “Joint Managing Conservators” (JMC); this is presumed to be best for most of Texas’ children. JMC is most similar to situations where the parents are still married and make decisions “jointly” for the best interests of their child.
Unfortunately, many times parents cannot get along and sometimes do not make decisions that are in the best interests of the children. Sometimes they make decisions based upon what is best for them or don’t make decisions at all. In certain circumstances, if there is evidence to support a different approach or an agreement between the parents, other forms of conservatorship may come into play. A “Sole Managing Conservator” (sometimes referred to as only a “managing conservator”) generally has all of the powers of conservatorship (i.e. – the authority to consent to medical treatment involving invasive procedures, the power to designate the primary residence of the child, the power to make educational decisions) without any input from the other parent. In contrast, a “Possessory Conservator” generally has visitation rights and will usually have limited authority to make certain parental decisions while the child is in the custody of that conservator.
The rules governing conservatorship are complicated and an attorney should be consulted for specific questions as to what form of conservatorship is best suited to your particular situation.