Even if you knew that divorce was on the horizon, when your spouse takes that step to file for divorce it can come as a bit of a surprise. This is especially true if divorce isn’t something you’ve already discussed. Seeing the divorce papers in front of you can be overwhelming and stressful. In fact, many people are at a loss of what they should do next. The Jimenez Law Firm is here to help guide you through this difficult time.
It’s not unusual for women to take the first step when it comes to filing for divorce. In fact, that’s what happens about 70% of the time. However, regardless of who filed, you can rest easy knowing that your title in the divorce case, be it petitioner (the spouse who filed) or the defendant (the spouse who was served with divorce papers), doesn’t affect your legal rights. So, whether you saw it coming or not, don’t worry about feeling like you’re in second place as you work through the divorce process.
The Divorce Timeline
Before you take any action, just pause for a moment and take a few deep breaths. Even when both parties agree to part ways, divorce can be a stressful time. When you’re ready, read through the divorce papers carefully and take notes. However, don’t delay doing this as once you receive the divorce paperwork you have a limited amount of time to respond.
In addition, once you’ve been served with divorce papers, you shouldn’t make any major purchases, changes regarding insurance, or dispose of any marital property. During this time, your finances and other records and documents will be under scrutiny during divorce proceedings so it’s best not to do anything that may seem suspicious.
In the state of Texas, you only have until the Monday after the 20 days following the service date to respond to your divorce petition. Your response must be filed by 10 AM that day. If you miss this deadline, then it’s likely that the court will award your former spouse with what they asked for.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to hire an experienced Texas divorce attorney within a few days of receiving the paperwork.
Depending on your marital situation, the Original Petition for Divorce or the dissolution of marriage filed by your spouse should cover family law matters including the custody and visitation of any minor children, child support, alimony or spousal support, division of property and debts, and anything else that may need to be addressed.
In your response, you will either agree or disagree with the various terms. Don’t feel pressured to agree with everything in the petition, even if you feel as though you are at fault. Speak with your lawyer about what would be considered fair and just in your situation. It’s okay to disagree with some or even all of what is outlined in the petition. This is where the negotiation process begins. Responding to the divorce papers allows you to ask for what you want.
Most family law attorneys will recommend mediation as a good next step. Mediation is generally less expensive and less stressful than a trial. It’s a great opportunity for both spouses to try and reach a mutually acceptable divorce settlement agreement. This is accomplished with the help of a neutral third party. Mediation generally will allow the divorcing couple to move forward more quickly and avoid the trial portion of the court system where a judge would decide on the matters important to the involved parties.
If the spouses agree, then they’ll present the agreement to a judge who will likely sign off on it. If they cannot agree, then they will move on to trial.
The Waiting Period
Texas is one of few states with waiting periods. It has a mandatory 60-day waiting period that can only be waived if domestic violence or family violence is an issue. If not, the court is unable to grant the original petition for divorce until it has been pending for at least 60 days. This allows both parties a cooling-down period or gives them time to reconcile. However, this is generally when the mediation takes place. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement you can proceed with an uncontested divorce. Uncontested divorces are generally less expensive.
If you’re unable to reach an agreement, then you’ll have what is considered a contested divorce. When this happens, the court becomes the decider on issues including:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Spousal maintenance
- Property division
Many divorcing couples try to reach an agreement through mediation to save time and money. Mediation also allows them to have a say when it comes to compromises in the divorce. If the court decides then things may not go the way they had hoped.
If you’re unable to agree, then you’ll attend a final hearing sometime after the waiting period. This hearing may just be in front of a judge or a judge and jury. If you have reached an agreement, then you’ll still sit before the judge. They may ask you a few questions, then they will approve the agreement.
Once the judge has approved the agreement or made the necessary court orders, you’ll receive your final divorce decree. This outlines the division of community property and debt, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, and any other pressing matters unique to your case.
If your spouse filed for divorce and you’re not sure what to do or if you’re in need of an experienced divorce attorney, call the offices of The Jimenez Law Firm at (214) 513-0125 to speak with our legal team.
Frequently Asked Questions
While there are no separation requirements for divorce in Texas, if you are pursuing a fault divorce based on separation then you must live apart for a minimum of three years. The state of Texas does not allow for legal separation instead of a divorce.
Due to the waiting period, the shortest amount of time most couples can divorce is 61 days. In special cases of domestic or family violence then this may be shorter. However, in reality, it takes between six months to a year for most couples to finalize their divorce.
If you were planning to file for divorce but your spouse filed first, then you still have the ability to respond to their divorce petition. As long as you file your response before the deadline you can still make your requests.
A default judgment occurs when the person served with divorce papers does not file a written answer before the date and time required. The court will then grant the divorce by default and everything outlined in the divorce petition will come to pass.
This is why it’s so important you find a divorce lawyer quickly if your spouse filed for divorce.