Hiring a divorce attorney and getting a divorce in Houston is a tough process to navigate. Especially if you have children, multiple homes, and other assets to discuss, this process can be cumbersome. It’s understandable if you need to take time and consider what it means to you to get a divorce. However, if you’re certain and ready to file, there’s helpful information you should know before you do.
For families, much of the hesitation to get a divorce comes down to your children and what’s best for them. You might have questions about certain aspects of your divorce, such as child custody, child support, alimony, visitation, and more. An informed and experienced divorce attorney can help with each of these concerns, working with you to offer the best solution.
Most people don’t get married thinking they will one day need to work out the intricacies of a divorce. Whether your decision needs quick action or it’s one that you’ve made over many years, the process is the same for couples across Houston. When you need a divorce, you must still file and go through the rest of the process, just as other couples in Texas do.
That’s why we put together this complete guide on what you need to know when filing a divorce in Houston.
How Long Does A Divorce Take In Houston Or Harris County?
Knowing how long it takes to get divorced is a question most people have. Especially if a mutual decision is made, people want to know how soon they can feel free from one another legally. As urgent as your need may be, Texas has its own rules.
There is a minimum 60-day waiting period from the initial filing to the finalization of the divorce. They call this the cooling-off period. This gives you and your spouse a chance to consider your actions and whether or not you can reconcile. Otherwise, this gives you a chance to work with your attorney and gather the information you need to move forward. Having a divorce that is considered “uncontested” is the quickest way to sever ties with your spouse. This means you both agree on all terms with no disputes.
But wait! While Texas says you need to wait 60 days, that does not guarantee your divorce in that amount of time. If you have certain requirements or other specific contingencies, negotiations and mediation with your current spouse could be a lengthy process. This depends on how quickly you both can make and agree on terms, resolve disputes about assets and estates, and cooperate with one another. Considering these aspects could push your divorce to last several months or longer.
Let’s say you’re the one initiating your divorce. You will need to file as the petitioner to initiate the process of a divorce. This is called an Original Petition for Divorce.
Houston Divorce Process
You will need to participate in the following steps to get a divorce in Houston.
1. Serving Your Spouse
As the filing party or petitioner, you will file your paperwork with the court asking for a divorce from your spouse. Double-check with your attorney during this step to ensure you have all of the documents you need to file filled out with the right information.
2. Response Options & Timing
As soon as the other party is served with divorce papers, they have 20 days to respond. This means they’ll use the proper legal documentation to reply to your request as they still have a say in the matter. If they also would like to get divorced, their response shouldn’t be more complicated than agreeing to participate in the divorce moving forward.
If you’re on the receiving end, you are known as the “respondent”. You will want to mark down the deadline you need to respond by and hire an attorney if you don’t have one already. Failing to respond by not turning in a Respondent’s Original Answer in time can leave your case up to default judgment, oftentimes in favor of your spouse. This means you will not have a say in how your children are cared for, how your assets are divided, and so on. Once again, it is critical that you respond to divorce papers because the divorce can and will move forward without you.
Here is where an attorney can come in handy as there are a few ways you can respond depending on if:
- You share any children with your spouse
- The children are minors
- You have child custody and/or support already in place
You must fill in every line with accurate, clearly-written information. If you have questions about leaving a line blank or you’re unsure of its answer, talk to your attorney.
3. Enforcing Temporary Orders
This step in your divorce puts temporary rules in place when it comes to shared assets, children, bills, etc. If you and your partner can come to an agreement about these terms, you’re good to proceed. However, a decision will be made for you by the court or with a mediator if you cannot agree. If your case involves abuse from the other party, you will likely be placed under non-contact orders for your safety.
4. Negotiations For Final Orders
Entering this part of your divorce requires a discovery period where you and your spouse are allowed to gather the information needed to make your case. The truth is, most divorces in Texas are handled outside of court. In fact, fewer than 10% of divorce cases see the inside of a courtroom. This is because litigation is a lengthy and expensive process. Most couples, while they may no longer want to be married, typically mediate or come to an agreement without the need for a judge.
5. Taking The Case To Trial
If neither you or your spouse can reach an agreement, your case can head for trial. In this situation, your attorney will be key to organizing and presenting your case to the judge or jury to award you the best possible outcome. This process can last a few days or so. Ultimately, a decision by the judge will be made in the form of a final divorce decree, which maps out any division of assets, child custody or support terms, alimony, etc.
If you need to make modifications of any kind, you must petition the court for a change. It seems like a formal way of making changes, but it’s crucial that everything is documented and ironed out carefully so that both parties understand what’s going on.
How Long Does A Divorce Take In An Uncontested Divorce?
Texas still has a 60-days minimum hold for divorces, even if both parties agree right away to all terms and conditions. This is the fastest and typically cheapest way to get a divorce. However, it’s still helpful to have the organization that can only be truly secured by hiring an attorney.
Even the most efficient process for a divorce in Houston will require the proper forms, deadlines, and other parameters to follow moving along. If you miss a deadline, improperly file a document, or fill out anything incorrectly, you will be forced to repeat the process.
Having an attorney to handle these details for you provides you the confidence knowing that your divorce will be handled in a timely and detailed manner.
How Long Does A Divorce Take In A Contested Divorce?
If your divorce is contested, it could take longer depending on the circumstances. In this case, it’s best to hire an attorney because the process will require a discovery period, documentation, and potential evidence.
Contested divorces can quickly become complex and fuel a stream of emotions from both parties. It helps to have someone on your side who is able to see your case from various angles. When hiring an attorney, it’s important to find someone you can trust, reach if needed, and depend on to help you through the process. They can’t do absolutely everything for you, but they should have your best interests in mind and take care of the legal aspects of your divorce.
If you have other concerns regarding the time it takes to get a divorce because you fear for you or your children’s lives, you need to speak to an attorney and be completely honest. No one should suffer physical or emotional abuse in a marriage, and your attorney may be able to help you with various aspects in your divorce.
Top 9 Ways To Prepare For Divorce In Houston
There are some things you can do for yourself and your children before you file for a divorce in Texas to help you out. Some of these items will require your attention anyway, so it’s better to get started sooner rather than later. Putting as much of this information together as you can will also help your attorney get a grasp on the best strategies to take. Missing a single piece of information could change the course of your divorce at any time.
1. Educate Yourself On The Divorce Process
If you’ve read through the above information, you’re already doing an amazing job!
Part of going through a divorce is understanding the process. This way, you know what to expect from both sides and how your divorce may look in the future. For example, you and your spouse might have children, and you know disagreements will arise. You now have a solid understanding that your divorce will likely be considered a contested divorce. You know right away this will take a little bit more time and require the expertise of a divorce attorney who can help with child support and child custody issues.
The point of familiarizing yourself with the divorce process? To know what to expect, how long it may take, and what will be required of you as you proceed.
2. Surround Yourself With A Team of Professionals
Whether you work full-time, part-time, or have the job of being a stay-at-home parent, divorce can take a toll on your mental and physical health. At this time, it’s important to hire well-respected professionals of all kinds to support you through your divorce. Your team can include:
- An attorney
- Mental health specialist
- Financial analyst
You may even consider getting outside help for your children, if you have any.
3. Get Your Finances In Order
If you’re largely in charge of the finances, this may be easier for you to put together. But if you aren’t in charge of your finances, it’s time to gather what you can to find out regarding key financial aspects like:
- Bills and who pays for them
- Household costs
- Shared debts
- Financial accounts (ROTH, IRA, savings, etc.)
- Additional living expenses
- Cost of childcare and other expenses
Log everything and keep up with it all in one place to hand over to your attorney when you need it.
4. Gather Important Documents
Having your finances sorted out is one thing, but the other part of this process includes gathering documentation to prove what you see. Documents can be anything from bank statements, pay stubs, tax returns, proof of debts, credit card statements, and more.
Keep in mind that any debt acquired while married is debt that you and your spouse are responsible for. For clarification, this might include medical bills, car payments, student loan payments, credit card debt, and more. If you can’t have an open and honest conversation with your spouse about your finances, it’s best to talk to your attorney and follow their advice. Otherwise, gathering all of the documentation you can is an excellent place to start.
5. Parent Education Program
Your case may require you and your spouse to take a parent education class in Texas. This is usually ordered for families with children who are minors. Courses are available online for your convenience, and it is full of tips and resources you can use to support your children at this time.
Furthermore, talking to your children about divorce can be hard, especially if they didn’t see it coming or if they’re too young to fully understand. This is where a parent education program also comes in handy. Ideally, both parents involve themselves in this type of course to navigate their divorce for the well-being of their children.
However, if you are the only cooperating parent, that’s okay. It’s good to have a plan in place that guides you on how to speak to your kids, avoid conflict, and offer support where you can. Taking the program can even help a judge, mediator, or jury make a decision for you when child custody, child support, and visitation is on the table for discussion.
6. Save To Avoid A Big Bill
The average cost of a divorce per person in Texas is $15,600 with no kids involved and $23,500 with kids in the picture. It is possible to ask your spouse to cover your attorney fees and court costs. However, you must ask for it within the Original Petition for Divorce.
If you are not asking your spouse to cover these costs, it will be up to you to handle any fees, additional costs, and attorney payments throughout the process. By preparing with the above beforehand, you can spend less time with your attorney asking questions and/or sitting in their office or on the phone. Over time, these seemingly small meetings and conversations can rack your bill up by the hour.
7. Consult With An Attorney
As part of the preparation process, talking to an attorney is key. It’s important to find someone with the proper credentials, experience, and knowledge of Texas divorce law. As soon as you hire an attorney, it’s important to be open and honest with them as you talk to them about your case. If you’ve prepared properly ahead of time, you can even present them with the information you have above to help them out with their strategy.
8. Protect Yourself Emotionally
Almost half of all first marriages end in divorce or separation. Which means you’ll probably hear a ton of advice from family members, friends, and even random acquaintances. But it’s important not to take everyone’s advice to heart. Many people mean well, but none of them know exactly what you and your spouse are going through.
The problems and major issues revealed in your divorce are between you and your spouse, no one else. This means taking control of your emotions, actions, and what you say to others around you, especially your children. When in doubt, take the high road and make no comment. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or answer to their questions about your divorce.
As mentioned above, it may be helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist about what you’re going through. This may also be an ideal time to join a support group or online forum with others going through a divorce.
9. Prioritize Your Physical Health
If you have or are experiencing physical, emotional, sexual, or even financial abuse, this can shape your divorce case in a huge way. It’s important to know you are not alone, and people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, income levels, and beyond can be victims of abuse in some way. It is not okay, and you do not have to put up with it for the rest of your life.
Have an attorney you feel comfortable sharing information about your abuse with as they can help you:
- Protect your children
- Speed up the divorce process
- File a restraining or similar order
- Limit or cease visitation
- Divide assets in your favor
Do not leave the knowledge of abuse of any kind to yourself. And provide documentation if you can with videos, photos, text messages, and other forms of evidence.
How To File For Divorce In Houston
After walking through the basics of the process and preparations, here’s what you need to know to file for your divorce.
Find The Harris County District Clerk’s Office
Once you know you’ve filled out all of the proper paperwork, you will then take this information over to the Harris County District Clerk’s office. Double-check with your attorney that you’re filing at the right place. Areas outside of Houston may have a different office for filing. Harris County allows you to file in person or online. The fee to do so costs about $300.
From this point, the district clerk will receive, process, and assign lawsuits to the appropriate court. Yes, filing for a divorce is similar to filing a lawsuit against your spouse. This also means your spouse will either be served the divorce papers, or you can talk about it beforehand and agree to have them sign a waiver of service, dismissing the need to serve them at all. Doing this does not dismiss them from the case. It only means they do not need to be notified of the filing because they are already aware.
Select Grounds For Divorce
Every state is different, so it’s important to be clear about what grounds you can claim for your divorce in Texas. For a divorce in Houston, there are a few routes you can take:
Insupportability means both of you don’t want to be married anymore. This is also called a “no-fault” divorce.
Living apart is defined as you and your spouse have not lived together at the same address for 3 years or more.
If your spouse is in confinement, this means they have been in a mental institution for 3 years or more and have been identified as having a probable ability to relapse.
Physical or emotional cruelty of any kind is valid grounds for divorce.
If your spouse has disappeared and is unable to be reached in a year or longer, you can claim abandonment.
If your spouse is convicted of a felony, has been in prison for over a year, or has not been pardoned, these are all also valid reasons.
While it might be surprising to some, adultery is a valid reason in Texas to file for divorce. Again, you must be able and willing to provide proof of the infidelity in question.Need a divorce attorney in Houston? Contact Daniels Law Firm to get started.