Getting a divorce can be one of the most stressful things a person can go through. On top of the stress, pain, and grief that comes along with ending a relationship, you also have to go through the tedious process of legally dissolving the marriage. The first step that you have to take in order to initiate a divorce in Texas is to file a divorce petition. Does a divorce petition expire in Texas, or does it remain on the books indefinitely if you don’t move forward?
The answer to this question is a bit complicated, as is common when you get into the nitty-gritty of state laws. In short, the answer is that legally speaking, a divorce petition never expires. However, practically, it can be dismissed by the court for sitting idle too long.
If this occurs, you have to start the entire process over again from scratch. For that reason, anyone going through a divorce in Texas is well-advised to be aware of the timeline they are expected to follow if they want to finalize their divorce.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about having filing a divorce petition and the potential for it to be dismissed “for want of prosecution.”
Filing a divorce petition is the first step toward getting a divorce in Texas. Officially titled the “Original Petition for Divorce,” this paperwork needs to be filed with the court along with the required court fee. When you file a divorce petition, you are beginning the process of getting divorced.
This legal document is the formal initiation of separation from your spouse. You’ll need to include basic identifying information about you and your spouse, including your names, date of marriage, date of birth, residency, and any children you have. You also typically have to fill out financial information about individual investments, debts, and assets as well as jointly-owned community property.
Where you should file your petition depends on what jurisdiction you and your spouse reside in as well as how long you have lived there. Once you have filed a divorce petition, a case number will be assigned by the court clerk.
At this stage, you also select the grounds for divorce and can apply for a restraining order if necessary.
The person who files the divorce petition is known as the petitioner, while the one who is delivered the filing is known as the respondent. A third party must always be used to serve a divorce petition to a respondent.
You can, however, both agree to waiver on having papers personally served if the divorce is amicable. An uncontested divorce is typically the best option for all parties involved if it is possible, particularly if there are children involved.
(Are you wondering how much a divorce costs in Texas? Check out this article.)
There are a number of different types of paperwork that need to be provided along with the divorce petition. Let’s take a look at the supplementary documentation required when you file for divorce in Texas.
A citation, in general terms, is a court summons. In the case of a divorce, it is a document that lets you know how many days the respondent has to respond to the petition. While it can be incredibly difficult to receive divorce paperwork from your spouse, it’s important to respond within the timeframe. If you don’t, your spouse will eventually probably receive a default judgement, and the final settlement will be ruled on without the judge hearing your side of the story.
The divorce petition is what we normally think of when we think of divorce papers. This is the paperwork that lists all of the required information for initiating a divorce.
Some of the form is fairly simple, while other parts can be more difficult to fill out. For example, listing who owns what property can certainly be cause for much debate. If you and your spouse have significant assets, it’s advised that you seek advice from a lawyer when filling out the section covering property and debt.
You or your spouse might need to submit additional supporting evidence in order to back up or support your petition. This might come in the form of asset valuations, band and mortgage statements, details of pensions and loans, tax returns, and more.
You will also have to produce an inventory before you split the contents of your home.
If you are planning on filing for a divorce on fault-based grounds, you’ll also need to submit supporting evidence. Proving fault isn’t always as easy as one might expect, and the court will require compelling evidence before granting a fault-based divorce.
When you are getting divorced, there are specific timelines and guidelines that need to be adhered to. For example, there is a sixty-day mandatory waiting period after the initial papers have been filed before a divorce can be granted except in very specific circumstances.
However, a divorce petition doesn’t ever technically expire in legal terms. That being said, a judge can process a divorce petition as a dismissal for want of prosecution (DWOP) if there isn’t any movement on a particular case over a specific period of time. What this means is that, though the petition doesn’t ever legally expire, it does effectively expire.
If a judge has processed a petition as a DWOP, it means that you’ll have to start the process over again from scratch if you want to proceed with the divorce.
The court expects that action will be taken on divorce or family law cases within a certain timeframe. In order to keep their calendar clear for cases that are active, the court can issue a “dismissal for want of persecution” (DWOP). Different courts have different timelines they use in order to determine when a case has become idle and is subject to a DWOP.
If your case has been flagged as idle by the court, you will receive a notice outlining their intention to DWOP the case. As a part of this, they will set a hearing. If you simply ignore the notice then your case will get dismissed.
If you want to avoid the dismissal of your case, the involved parties will need to appear in court and prove that forward movement has been occurring in the case. Different courts have different requirements at this stage. For example, some require that you fill out and submit a scheduling order to the court for a trial date.
There are various reasons that a court might send out a DWOP notice. These include:
It is common for courts to give the involved parties thirty days to file what is known as a “Motion to Reinstate.” If you file this in a timely fashion, then you will receive a hearing with the court where you can argue why you believe the court should grant your motion. The court will reinstate the case if sufficient reason is given.
If you fail to file a motion to reinstate or the court doesn’t grant your motion, you will have to refile the case. This means starting over from scratch, including serving your spouse divorce papers again.
Technically, a divorce petition in Texas is always legally valid and never expires. In reality, though, a divorce petition for which a judge has processed as a DWOP is, for all practical purposes, invalid. This happens when the court feels that a case has sat idle too long.
Having your case processed as a DWOP means that deadlines were missed and forward action hasn’t been taken in the case for some time. The amount of time a court waits before processing a case in this way varies from court to court.
If a court decides that your case has sat without any movement for too long, they will communicate their intention to process the case as a DWOP and will set a date for a hearing.
At the hearing, you need to show up to the court and prove that forward movement has been occurring in the case. You can do this by setting the case for trial or through other actions. In some courts, it’s required that you submit a scheduling order to the court.
If you and your spouse decide that you do want to remain married after filing divorce paperwork, the petitioner can withdraw their request so long as the other spouse hasn’t already responded after being served.
If the respondent has already responded, however, it’s required that both parties sign a withdrawal request rather than just the petitioner.
If there has been a judgment entered in the case, you can no longer withdraw the petition.
The entire divorce process in Texas typically takes several months. How long the process takes depends on a number of factors, including whether you have children, whether you have substantial assets, whether the case is uncontested or contested, and whether you are filing for a no-fault or fault-based divorce.
There isn’t any established Texas law regarding how long you can put a divorce on hold. However, you will need to be mindful of the guidelines when it comes to the time frame of necessary steps in order to avoid your case being processed as a DWOP and having to start over from scratch if that’s what you choose to do.
The state of Texas does have a mandatory sixty-day “cooling off” period, though. This means that, unless your circumstances fit certain specific requirements, you will not be granted a divorce any sooner than sixty days after the paperwork was initially filed.
This intends to give couples a little time and space to make sure that they are making the right decision. The idea is that sixty days is ample time for people to decide that they can actually reconcile their differences and make the marriage work after all. At the same time, it’s also (theoretically, at least) enough time for one or both parties to decide that they do want to move forward with the divorce process.
It isn’t uncommon for divorcing couples to reconsider whether or not they can make the marriage work or to go through a busy season where they don’t make forward progress on the case, for example, during the holiday season.
However, the family law court in the county where you are filing will eventually notice that your case hasn’t had any recent activity. Leaving cases idle for months can clutter up the courts schedule, so they are motivated to process cases as DWOPs when it’s clear that there hasn’t been any forward movement.
Depending on the county, you might receive a notice from the court asking if you would like to continue with the case. They also might give you a warning that the inactivity in your case might lead to the case being processed as DWOP. You will then have a deadline for when you have to respond to the court, which is typically thirty days.
If you don’t respond at this point, the case might be processed as DWOP. Once this happens, you will need to start the process over from scratch if you intend to move forward with the divorce.
Once you have filed a divorce petition, the papers will need to be served to your spouse unless you have both signed a waiver saying otherwise.
After the respondent has received the paperwork or signed a document stating that they have a copy of the petition, they have a certain number of days in which they must respond. Usually, this is between twenty and twenty-eight days.
Though it can be very difficult to receive divorce paperwork from your spouse, not responding at all usually isn’t in your best interest. If you don’t respond, your spouse can be given a default divorce which won’t take your specific needs into account. The court will decide on a number of determinations that can have a major impact on your life without your interest being represented, including:
The respondent has the opportunity to answer and file a counter petition if they choose to do so. This must be delivered to the opposing party but doesn’t require the same citation as the initial delivery of the original petition does.
There is also a mandatory sixty-day waiting period after papers are initially filed before a divorce can be granted. Temporary orders can be filed during this time to create conduct ground rules during the process of getting divorced. Discovery can then begin after temporary orders are established if they are necessary.
Discovery involves gathering information via written requests and oral testimony in addition to relevant information and documents. These might have to do with witnesses, finances, taxes, personal property, or real property.
This process can be time-consuming, but it can be avoided by pursuing an uncontested divorce. This type of divorce doesn’t require a discovery, trial, or other expensive and drawn-out legal procedures.
However, if you and your spouse still cannot agree on major divorce-related decisions, you will need to pursue a contested divorce. This is when the court ultimately decides what will happen in terms of dividing marital property, child custody, alimony, and child support.
There are alternative dispute resolution methods that can be used if you want to avoid the expense, time, and emotional toll of battling it out in the courtroom. This includes mediation or collaborative divorce.
Finally, there will be a final hearing in front of a judge. This can occur any time after the waiting period is over. If you have a final agreement in writing by the time of the hearing, the judge might just ask a few questions and sign and sign your divorce decree.
A judge can sign a divorce decree in Texas any time after the sixty-day waiting period has passed. In order to set the hearing for your divorce case, you’ll need to check with the court you are filing with for specific details, as the process varies from county to county.
In reality, few couples will be lucky enough to have a hearing on the sixty-first day after the papers were filed. Even in the case of an uncontested, no-fault divorce, a divorce in Texas will typically take at least a few months to finalize.
Emotions are inevitably going to be high when it comes to getting divorced. Because the decision to break up a marriage can be such an emotionally-charged time, the state of Texas requires that there is a sixty-day cooling off period. You can use this time to determine whether or not you really do want to move forward with the divorce or whether the marriage is, in fact, salvageable.
While it’s likely a good thing all-in-all for people to have to take some time to think about whether divorce is right for them before finalizing the end of the marriage, that doesn’t mean that you can remain in limbo indefinitely.
Once you have filed the divorce petition with the court, the clock starts ticking in some regards. If action isn’t taken towards moving the case forward at a certain point, the court can dismiss the case due to inactivity. While the divorce petition never technically expires in legal terms, it can become functionally expired if you let too much time go by.
If you still want to move forward with the divorce after your case is dismissed for want of prosecution, you will have to start over again. If you and your spouse have decided to stay together, you can have the case dismissed by filing the proper paperwork.
Understanding the Texas state divorce laws can be a powerful tool when you’re getting a divorce. If you’re looking for more resources about Texas divorce laws, be sure to check out the rest of our growing library.