Texas Divorce Laws

Divorce Process in Texas: How It Works

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
July 6, 2022

Realizing that your marriage is over is difficult enough in its own right. When you add in the complicated legal process of dissolving a marriage, it can make the whole thing feel completely overwhelming. Once you learn more about the divorce process in Texas and how it works, though, it can help you understand the steps involved and the timeline that divorces typically follow.

Depending on whether you and your spouse agree on the terms of a divorce, whether you have children, and how substantial your assets and debts are, a divorce can be fairly simple or it can be quite complicated.

By planning ahead, though, you can work to avoid making the process any more stressful, time-consuming, or expensive than it needs to be.

Let’s dive in and take a look at how the divorce process works in Texas.

How the Divorce Process Works in Texas

man taking off wedding ring in texas divorce

Getting divorced in Texas usually takes between six and twelve months, but there are a lot of different factors that can impact how long the full process takes.

Your specific circumstance will inform the exact process that you go through when getting divorced in Texas. However, the average divorce process will follow the timeline outlined below.

Pre-Filing

Before you file, there are three basic steps that are necessary.

The first one might seem so obvious it’s not worth mentioning, but the first essential step in getting a divorce is making the final decision that you want to pursue a divorce. This is a serious decision, and depending on whether or not you and your partner are coming to this agreement mutually, something you will have to bring up with your spouse.

The second step is determining whether you want to hire an attorney or if you’re going to get a DIY divorce. Getting a divorce without a lawyer is really only recommended in certain circumstances, and it isn’t advised to get divorced without an attorney if you and your spouse are getting a contested divorce.

If you are going to hire a lawyer, though, now is the time to find one that you are comfortable working with and that you trust to represent you.

The third step is deciding on your grounds for divorce. You’ll need to choose the grounds you’re going to claim in your divorce papers before you file them. Your grounds for divorce are basically the justification that you are communicating to the court about why you want to dissolve the marriage.

Before you file for divorce, you can work with your lawyer to get your finances in order and do what you legally can to protect yourself before the divorce begins. You can also use this time to determine what your requests are when it comes to the final divorce settlement.

Filing and Serving

The first official filing in your case is a document known as the Original Petition for Divorce. If you’re working with an attorney, they will ask you for basic information about you, your spouse, your property, and any children you have in order to fill out this form properly. If you aren’t working with an attorney, you’ll need to fill out the form yourself.

Your divorce petition will be filed in a District Court or a County Court, depending on where you live. Your case will then be assigned to a specific judge by the clerk of the court.

Then, the case will be assigned a case number once your case is filed. At this point, a private process server or constable will be able to retrieve the documents in order to formally serve your spouse.

Your spouse has a constitutional right to be notified if there is a lawsuit being filed against them. Since divorce is technically a civil lawsuit, you are legally required to serve them with notice in the proper way unless they have signed paperwork waiving their right to this form of notice.

The easiest way to provide your spouse with notice is to have them sign a waiver of citation. However, if they aren’t willing to do this, they will need to be served by an individual that is authorized under Texas law to serve legal papers.

In Texas, only the people that are listed in the Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 103 are legally allowed to serve papers. This includes a sheriff, constable, or another individual that has been authorized by law or court.

Process servers are legally required to try and deliver papers in person or by certified mail before moving on to other methods. People often try and avoid having their spouse served at their place of work as this can be disruptive and embarrassing.

Waiting Period

woman waiting during divorce waiting period in texas

The state of Texas requires that all divorcing couples undergo a sixty-day waiting period except for two very specific exceptions.

Almost everyone who gets divorced in Texas has to undergo a sixty-day waiting period as a part of the process. In order to determine when the waiting period is over, start counting from the day after you filed the Original Petition for Divorce and include weekends and holidays. If the sixtieth day ends up falling on either a holiday or a weekend, your waiting period will be over on the next business day.

The only two circumstances that allow the waiting period to be waived are:

  • Your spouse has received deferred adjudication for a crime or been convicted of a crime that involves domestic violence against you or someone else in your household
  • You have an active magistrate’s order or an active protective order for emergency protection against your spouse due to domestic violence that occurred during the marriage

This waiting period intends to give couples the opportunity to make sure that a divorce is something they really want to go through with. Divorce is a process that legally dissolves your marriage, and it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. By enforcing this waiting period, the hope is that couples can think about whether or not their marriage is really irreparable.

The divorce process doesn’t have to completely stop during this time, and you and your spouse can both work to come to an agreement on the terms of the divorce if you haven’t already while the waiting period is ongoing. The waiting period simply means that a judge cannot grant a divorce (except in the two exceptions mentioned above) until at least sixty days have passed from the filing of the petition.

It’s worth mentioning that you shouldn’t expect to be over and done with your divorce in sixty days, though. Courts tend to get backed up and where you’re filing for divorce will determine how long you have to wait for a hearing. How long your divorce takes will also have to do with the details of your case, as a contested, fault-based divorce will take a lot longer than an uncontested no-fault divorce.

Petition Response

man writing response to divorce petition in Texas

Unless your spouse waives their right to be served divorce papers, they will need to file an Answer in response to your petition for divorce.

Once your spouse has been served, the clock starts ticking on a deadline for when they must file an Answer to any allegations that were written in the divorce petition.

In some cases, you might not be able to find your spouse despite trying to track them down. If this is the case, a court order will be needed to provide service via publication in a newspaper or equivalent type of media. This should be a last resort option.

If your spouse doesn’t file an answer and chooses not to participate in the divorce, you might be able to pursue a default divorce. This means that you can basically create the terms of your divorce and carry on with the process without their input.

In most cases, your spouse will also hire an attorney if you already have one. For amicable, uncontested divorces with uncomplicated estates, a DIY divorce is possible where neither spouse hires a lawyer. This can save a lot of money overall, but you’ll want to make sure you’re not compromising your needs just to keep the cost of divorce down.

Once your spouse files an answer to the divorce papers, they are entitled to be present for all of the divorce proceeding court hearings.

Your spouse also has the opportunity to file a counter-petition at this time. Similar to the original petition, this is an opportunity for the Respondent to outline their grounds for divorce and any requests they have from the court.

Temporary Orders, Mediation, and Discovery

living room of marital home in texas divorce

Temporary orders outline the ground rules during the divorce process, such as who will live in the marital property and how parental duties will be divided.

A temporary orders hearing will be the first opportunity in your divorce to attend a court hearing. Temporary orders are basically the rules that will be in place during the process of divorce. These orders outline and dictate issues such as the following:

  • How much child support will be paid and by whom
  • How often you will see your children
  • Who will stay in the marital home
  • Which parent will choose the primary residence for the children
  • Who will pay shared bills

When you’re married, your lives become intimately intertwined. After divorce, you will have successfully separated your property and responsibilities. During this in-between period when you have started getting a divorce but it hasn’t been finalized, temporary orders help determine each spouse’s responsibilities.

Temporary orders can be set up by attending temporary orders mediation or by attending a contested temporary orders hearing.

Temporary orders mediation is an attempt to come to an agreement with your spouse on issues of temporary orders through negotiation.

A temporary orders hearing, on the other hand, is basically a mini-trial to determine the terms of the agreement during the divorce process.

Some Texas courts might require that you go to mediation before you are scheduled for a temporary order hearing. If you aren’t able to reach a settlement in regards to temporary orders through mediation, you will both attend a court date with a judge, where each side argues to the judge the terms they believe are fitting for the temporary orders.

You and your attorney can also choose to submit discovery requests and questions at this time. This is an opportunity to request documents, obtain information, and ask questions that are central to your spouse’s case. Your spouse, of course, can request the same type of information from you and your attorney.

This part of the process can actually benefit both parties in many instances. Because this is a chance to gather more information about where each spouse is coming from, it can help spouses reach a settlement without trial to go through this part of the process.

Final Orders, Mediation, and Trial

Almost all Texas divorces reach a settlement before going to trial. This is because there will be another mediation period in order to discuss long-term issues such as property division and visitation with children. It is common for most couples to be able to reach a settlement during this period before the case ends up in court before a judge.

If you aren’t able to settle your case in mediation, however, you’ll end up having to go to a contested trial. While some divorce trials in Texas might be heard before juries, they are most commonly heard before a judge.

During the trial, evidence and testimony will be submitted by both sides and a judge will inevitably determine the final orders in your case.

Some divorce trials might only last one day or they can last as long as one week. It is rare for the actual trial itself to last longer than a week, and they normally aren’t any longer than a few days.

Final Divorce Hearing

The last step in your divorce is when you use your mediated settlement agreement or the orders from a judge in order to create the final divorce decree. This is the final order in a divorce case. The path of your post-divorce life will be dictated by this document in large part.

A number of decisions will be outlined in this document, including things like:

  • A final solution for the marital home
  • How right sand duties will be divided between parents with children
  • A visitation schedule for children
  • How retirement benefits and other property will be divided

One of the involved attorneys will be tasked with drafting this document. Of course, everyone involved will have the chance to review the drafted document and make changes if necessary.

This part of the process is in and of itself a negotiation. It is very important that both you and your attorney thoroughly read through the final divorce decree and ask questions if there are parts of the document that you don’t understand.

Eventually, all parties and their attorneys will reach a point where they are comfortable with the document as it has been drafted. The document will be signed and there will be another brief court appearance.

This court appearance is sometimes referred to as a prove-up hearing. During this time, you’ll be asked brief questions about the divorce. These are usually simple yes or no questions, and your attorney can help prepare you ahead of time. The point of this part of the process is for the judge to make sure that the final decree of divorce is fair to both parties.

When your divorce is approved by a judge in a prove-up hearing, your final decree of divorce will be signed by them. This is when your divorce is official and you can begin to live your post-divorce life.

What to Know About Divorce in Texas

The timeline that your divorce follows might look quite different than the process outlined above depending on your circumstance. Let’s take a look at some of the most important things to understand about how the divorce process works in Texas to help you get a sense of what to expect.

Contested Vs. Uncontested

When you and your spouse pursue an uncontested or agreed divorce, it means that the two of you both agree to get divorced and you agree on the terms of the divorce as well. The types of issues that you will need to have an agreement about include:

  • Property division
  • Debt allocation
  • Spousal support

The term uncontested divorce can also refer to a default divorce. This is when the spouse that is served papers doesn’t respond to the divorce petition and the divorce is therefore granted by default without the involvement of the respondent.

A contested divorce, on the other hand, is when you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of the divorce. These cases are often a lot more complicated than uncontested divorces. While it is possible to get an uncontested divorce without the help of a lawyer, it is generally advised that parties get attorneys when they go through a contested divorce.

If you and your spouse don’t agree on what you want to happen in the divorce, you can undergo mediation or a collaborative divorce. If mediation doesn’t result in a settlement, the case will go to trial. If a collaborative divorce doesn’t result in a settlement, the entire process starts over again.

While the best-case scenario is that you and your spouse can get an amicable divorce, sometimes one party is unwilling to cooperate during the process. If you worry that your spouse is going to be intentionally difficult during your divorce, you might want to check out some of the most common sneaky divorce tactics.

Fault-Based Vs. No-Fault

When you file for divorce, you have to tell the court the reason that the marriage is dissolving. There are seven grounds for divorce in Texas, some of which are considered no-fault grounds while the rest are considered fault-based grounds.

Getting a no-fault divorce is much more straightforward than getting a fault-based divorce.

If your spouse cheated on you or otherwise behaved in a hurtful way, it can be tempting to try and cause them financial and personal pain by filing a fault-based divorce. However, it’s important to understand that you are required to prove that your spouse acted in the way that you are accusing them of, which isn’t always that easy. This type of divorce is also more expensive and more time-consuming. Depending on your situation, you might choose to file for a no-fault divorce even if you believe they are at fault in order to prioritize finalizing the divorce sooner and being able to move on with your life.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Texas?

The cost of a Texas divorce can range widely– from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

If you and your spouse do not have any disagreements and are able to pursue an uncontested divorce, you might choose to pursue a divorce without the help of any lawyers. This is the cheapest option for divorce unless you qualify for low-income divorce options. If the divorce is contested, you have children, or you have significant assets or debts, it is generally recommended that you speak with a family law attorney.

If you’re able to get a divorce without a lawyer, the whole process will only cost a few hundred dollars. You will need to pay the court filing fees and possibly a few other small, associated fees. Typically, this only costs between $250 and $350.

Getting an uncontested divorce in Texas usually costs between $250 and $5000. The lower end of that range refers to people who get divorced without hiring lawyers, while the higher end refers to spouses who have lawyers assist them in the process.

A contested divorce will cost more than an uncontested divorce, and a fault-based divorce will cost more than a no-fault divorce. This is because divorce gets more expensive the more time and energy a lawyer is putting in on your behalf. In these instances, the total costs per spouse can be tens of thousands of dollars.

Seeking divorce mediation in the case of a contested divorce is a good idea both to avoid trial and to keep costs down.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Texas?

A Texas divorce almost always takes at least sixty days because of the mandatory waiting period. In most cases, though, you probably won’t be able to have your final divorce hearing on day sixty-one due to court scheduling.

Divorce in Texas commonly takes between six and twelve months from start to finish. There are a number of things that can impact how long it takes to get divorced in Texas, including:

  • Having minor children
  • Having significant assets
  • Filing for divorce in a county where the courts are backed up
  • One spouse contests the divorce
  • Filing for a fault-based divorce

The fastest way to get divorced is to get an uncontested, no-fault divorce. While the process still can’t occur overnight, it’s a lot more straightforward than getting a contested, fault-based divorce where there are significant assets involved.

Your Go-To Resource For Texas Divorce Information

The sheer number of unknowns can be completely overwhelming when you’re getting divorced in Texas. When you first begin the divorce process, you might find that you are dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress due to uncertainty. The combination of dealing with the emotional reality of ending your relationship and the legal and financial responsibility of the divorce process can seem like too much to handle.

Don’t worry– you’ve got this! The first step in dealing with the legal and financial side of things is to gather as much information as possible. The firmer grasp you have on how the process works, the less stressed you will feel about how it will all unfold.

While there are always going to be horror stories about nightmare divorces that drag out for months or even years, it’s worth remembering that almost all Texas divorces never make it to trial because a settlement is reached beforehand. If you and your spouse are able to collaborate and negotiate to reach a settlement, you can both save a lot of time, money, and stress.

If you’re looking for more information about getting divorced in the Lone Star State, you’ve come to the right place. At TexasDivorceLaws.org, we have a vast library of resources about Texas divorce, marriage, and more.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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