When you have decided to get a Texas divorce, it is important to understand how to submit the divorce papers correctly. Getting the paperwork right the first time will save you the effort of correcting mistakes. This guide is intended to familiarize you with the basic forms you will need to file and the order in which they need to be submitted. Your divorce attorney can give you precise legal guidance on how to fill them out based on your specific situation.
Nine Things to Know About Filing Divorce Papers in Texas
There are three basic forms that almost all couples must file during a divorce:
- The Original Petition for Divorce
- The Answer to the Original Petition
- The Final Decree of Divorce
Additionally, you will probably need to file some forms based on local county guidelines, financial disclosures, and whether or not you and your partner have children. Here are nine things to know before getting started:
1. You Must Meet the Residency Requirements
To get a Texas divorce, at least one partner must be able to show residency in Texas for the past six months. Additionally, you must file in the county where that residence is located.
2. The Original Petition for Divorce Is the First Form to File
The Original Petition for Divorce initiates the termination of the marriage by disclosing one partner’s intent to file. The spouse who fills it out is required to legally “serve” it to the other. He or she is called the “petitioner”. The spouse who receives it is called the “responder”.
In the past, the service was usually done by an authorized official, such as a sheriff or a constable. You can still have it done that way, or you can give the papers to your spouse directly. If you deliver them yourself, you must include a Waiver of Service for your spouse to sign in the presence of a notary. Most couples choose the latter option because it saves time.
3. Without an Official Answer, the Divorce Goes Into Default
Normally, the next step is for the receiving spouse to file an answer to the petition. By submitting an official answer, he or she acknowledges the divorce and protects his or her legal right to have an input in the proceedings. If the receiving spouse does not respond with an answer to the original petition, the divorce will go into default.
Divorces can be finalized in default. In that case, a judge will set the terms of the divorce without hearing the responder’s point of view.
4. If You Cannot Find Your Spouse, You Must Do the Service by Publication
If you are unable to find your spouse, the law allows you to notify them of your divorce in a process called “service by publication”. To do this, you will publish your original petition in some public media. You must also file a form called the Certificate of Last Known Address and a military status declaration. These forms are used to determine where your spouse used to live and whether they were unable to respond due to military service.
If you are considering service by publication, you will definitely want to speak with a lawyer. You will be responsible for proving that you made a diligent search for the person, and you run the risk that they will exercise their right to ask for a new divorce trial within two years. Your lawyer can help you meet your obligations and weigh your options.
5. Spouses Are Required to Disclose Financial Information
If the receiving spouse files an answer, both spouses must disclose information pertaining to their assets within 30 days. In some cases, a judge may put additional orders in place to prevent either spouse from hiding assets. Spouses are usually required to disclose:
- The balance of savings and checking accounts
- All income, including salaries and earnings from a small business or side job
- Real estate
- Personal property
- Retirement accounts
- Health plans and other benefits
- Debts owed
6. There Are Special Forms for Spouses With Children
If you and your spouse have minor children, you might need to fill out additional forms pertaining to custody and child support. Exhibit: Out-of-State Party Affidavit is required of couples with one parent who lives out of state. In some cases, the Income Withholding for Support Order form is used to authorize automatic deductions of child support from one spouse’s paycheck.
It is important to note that Texas courts can only make custody rulings for children who have lived in-state for six months prior to the divorce. Exceptions are made for children who were raised in Texas and have been out of the state for less than six months. Additionally, you can only file for an uncontested divorce if there are no previous court orders pertaining to custody or child support.
7. There Might Be Local Forms to Submit
Some counties have their own local forms that need to be completed as part of the divorce process. Your attorney can help you determine if any will be necessary in your case.
8. Signing the Final Decree of Divorce Means You Agree to All the Terms
The Final Decree of Divorce is the form that makes the divorce official. In an uncontested divorce, both parties sign it after the responder’s answer to the petition has been received.
If the spouse who receives the petition does not agree to the terms, he or she will refuse to sign the Final Decree of Divorce. At that point, the couple has a contested divorce. The petitioner must provide the responder with a notice of a hearing date in writing. The hearing is used to work out unresolved issues before the divorce can proceed.
9. A Judge Must Also Sign the Final Decree of Divorce
Texas requires 60 days to pass after the submission of the paperwork before the divorce can be finalized. After that period, you will be given a hearing date. If the court approves of the terms, the judge will sign off on the Final Decree of Divorce.
When Should You Work With a Lawyer in a Texas Divorce?
In a Texas divorce case, it is always beneficial to work with a lawyer from the very beginning. Even in uncontested divorces, having legal guidance is the best way to ensure that everything goes smoothly and without error. It is also a good safeguard to have in place in case your spouse changes his or her mind about some of the terms at a critical moment.
If your divorce involves children, marital misconduct, considerable assets, or if it is in any way contested, working with an attorney is crucial. You don’t want to risk incurring significant material losses or losing the custody rights to your children by committing errors that could have been avoided with legal expertise.
Divorce Papers Done Right
Having the right legal guidance makes divorce a lot easier. These days, most couples aim to have an uncontested divorce in which all the papers are submitted together, including the Waiver of Service and the signed Final Decree of Divorce. Whether your divorce is straightforward or a little more challenging, your attorney can help you get through the process as efficiently as possible. To learn more about how a divorce attorney can help, contact Skillern Firm, today!