Our team of Family lawyers at Skillern Firm are frequently asked this question by potential clients. In fact, this question would likely make our top 10 list of questions asked by potential clients in a consultation.
The answer is…are you ready for it? It depends! I know, that seems like such a cop-out to build up the anticipation and then give an answer like “It depends.” But the truth is that there are many variable in any given divorce and each of them can have an impact on the time that it takes to finalize a divorce.
Very generally, the divorce petition is filed and served. The other party files an answer, and maybe even serves a counterpetition. The tone of the initial pleading (petition or counterpetition for divorce) can set the stage for how long the process is going to take. This is why it is vital not to overplead. What does that mean – to overplead? Sure, maybe there were some things done and said over the course of a marriage to one another. That one fight where he called you a “bad mom” or that fight where she said you were “a total loser” does not always equate to cruelty – or at least to a level of cruelty that should be pleaded in the petition as a ground for fault in the breakup of a marriage. And yet, there are times when it should be included.
After the Petition(s) and Answer(s) are on file, most counties require that the parties mediate before the entry of temporary orders. These are the temporary set of orders that will govern the rights and responsibilities of the parties while they wait for a Final Decree of Divorce (which is the end, but not really if you read our blogs). If the parties can agree quickly and the temporary orders can be agreed to, then that will help to expedite the process. The parties will then be required to answer certain questions and produce certain documents to the other side (these are called “Disclosures” and must be done within 30 days after the first answer or appearance in the divorce). After 30 days, the parties may choose to conduct discovery (Interrogatories, Requests for Admission, Requests for Production, Depositions, Subpoenas for records, etc). If the Parties are contentious, then this process may drag on until the discovery period ends at some point before the trial date. In Texas, there will usually be another mediation at which time the Parties will try to agree on the terms of the divorce (property division, possession and access of the child(ren), child support, spousal support (to be included in a different blog), and other terms. If the parties are able to agree, there will be a mediated settlement agreement. The mediated settlement agreement is important, because the Court cannot change the terms of a mediated settlement agreement in Texas. After the mediated settlement agreement, one side (usually the Petitioner) will draw up the draft Agreed Divorce Decree for the Judge to sign. But, again, if the process is contentious, one side can choose to not agree to the draft language of the Decree, and continue to delay the process by fighting over technical terms and technical language of a decree (what is the definition of “is” to use a common satire).
If the parties cannot agree to all of the terms, and there is no mediated settlement agreement, then the Parties will generally prepare for trial. The trial may be before a Judge, or a Jury. And if one or both sides really wanted to drag it out longer, they could ask the Court for a continuance, which if granted would further delay the trial.
Another complicating factor is that there simply are not enough Judges and there are a huge number of cases that can sit on the docket of Courts. In a county like Harris County, county seat of Houston, the Family District Courts hear only Family Law cases. But with tens of thousands of cases filed each year, and even through using Associate Judges, the Court’s dockets can get backlogged. What this means practically is that your case could be set for trial and you could prepare for trial, just to show up at the Courthouse on the day of trial and be told that there are 5 cases set for trial on the same day and yours is not the number 1 case. This will cause the Court to reset your case to another date in the future, causing further delay.
At Skillern Firm, we have seen divorce cases finalized in less than 90 days from start to finish. And we have also seen cases drag on for over a year or more. If you are contemplating a divorce, or have been served with divorce papers, and you want to know how long the process may take, it is important to speak to an experienced Texas Family Law Attorney, the lawyers at the Skillern Firm, led by Board Certified Family Law Attorney Matthew A. Skillern, can help you navigate this issue and answer any questions that you may have. If you would like to speak to someone about your particular situation, call our office at (713) 229-8855 and speak to one of our experienced family lawyers. We are here to help you as we have helped many others.
* At Skillern Firm, we pride ourselves on the results we have achieved for those we help. We stand ready to assist you with any of your Family Law needs. Contact us today. https://www.skillernfirm.com/