DIY Texas Divorce: The Right Way
Are you feeling overwhelmed at the idea of handling your own divorce? Especially when children are involved, the DIY divorce can feel like a minefield with many chances to mess things up.
If you do decide to handle the divorce on your own, this guide will help you do it right.
The Right PlaceBefore you do anything, you have to figure out which court to interact with. Lawyers call this issue "jurisdiction," and it comes in several forms.
To give you the shortest version possible, jurisdiction is about courts having a say. There are a lot of courts in this country, but not all of them have a say in what happens to you, your family, or your property. Start by finding the court that has legitimate input in those three areas.
First, which court has a say over you? In Texas, if you've been in the state for 6 months and in a given county for 90 days, you can file for divorce in that county. That court has a say in what happens to you.
Second, which court has a say over your family? Kids are a special issue and the court with personal jurisdiction over you may not have jurisdiction over your children. In most cases, if a child has been in a county for six months, the court in that county has a say over what happens to your child.
Third, which court has a say over your property? If you have property that needs to be divided in the divorce, make sure that property is within the county of the court you're dealing with. If the marital property is found within the county you wish to file in, that court has a say in what happens with your stuff.
Jurisdiction is complicated enough to fill a law school class, but these basics should let you know whether your case is really "simple." If you think you may have a jurisdiction issue in your case, make sure you talk with a lawyer right away.
The Right PaperworkAssuming you've found the court with a say over you, your family, and your property, you have to properly ask that court to intervene. In a DIY divorce, you do this by filing a Petition for Divorce.
A petition is like raising your hand and asking a court to help. But the court needs to know you're the kind of person it can help at all. So, within a petition, you'll let the court know it has jurisdiction over you, and you'll ask for the court to make decisions.
If you're doing this yourself, a great place to look is texaslawhelp.org, a free repository of basic legal forms. You'll know right away which form is appropriate based on the kinds of issues we already talked about: you, your family, and your property.
If, for example, you want the court to make a decision on child custody, you let the court know in the petition. The same goes for child support, property division, and even the divorce itself. Tell the court what you want by including in your petition.
The Right QuestionsAs you go through this process, you will face a number of decisions. Only if every one of those decisions are agreed upon by you and your spouse do you have an "uncontested" divorce. Read the questions below carefully to know whether you should hire an attorney for a contested divorce situation.
How should decisions be made for your children? Who makes choices regarding schooling, health care, psychological care, and money?
Do you want to have a geographical restriction? Should the parent with primary custody (the "joint managing conservator with the right to determine residence") be restricted from moving out of the county with the child?
How should visitation be handled between the parents? Should visits happen weekly, in a 50/50 format, or less frequently? What about holidays?
How much is child support? Will the standard rules under the Texas Family Code work, or do you need something custom?
How should property be divided? Do you have separate property?
Do you want any specific methods for dealing with debts?
Should some receive alimony or spousal maintenance? For how long?
How will you handle this year's taxes?
Does anyone want a name change?
These questions are the type that can break up an "uncontested divorce," but they must be asked. Unless you can get on the same page with the other parent on every one of these issues, you might not be able to do this on your own.
The Right Way To FinishIf you have disagreements on these issues, there may still be a chance to get this done without a contested hearing. Look for alternative dispute resolution alternatives in your area, like mediation. Bigger cities in Texas have free or reduced-cost mediation centers that could be of use.
Once you have an agreement, you need to get it in an order and head to court. Again, the forms on texaslawhelp.org can be a big help here. They are not custom documents so they assume your case is simple, but they are enforceable. You just have to make sure all obligations and agreements are clearly listed.
Once you have an agreed order, you'll need signatures from both parties and a date from the court. Call the court you've been assigned to and ask if it has an uncontested docket. Those are times that the court will sign agreed orders, assuming they're done correctly.
When you go to court, you will need to "prove up" the divorce. Basically, you will testify to the kinds of things that an attorney would ask you about if you were a witness in your own divorce case.
Look for "divorce prove up questions" in the texaslawhelp.org forms and read through them. You'll need to mention things to the judge like when you were married, how many kids you have, and that the property division in the order has been agreed to and is fair.
Once that is done, you will have an agreed divorce, signed by a judge. You now have an enforceable order.
The Right Way ForwardAssuming you did all the steps above correctly, you are now able to move forward with your life. Congratulations!
Unfortunately, these things rarely end in a divorce decree. Often, disputes come up later, especially if the children were young at the time of divorce.
Not to worry. Through actions like enforcements and modifications, courts can help you overcome the bumpy roads that often show up.
Be a good parent. Be the kind of parent that won't be pushed around when it comes to your children. That takes a special level of maturity, and courts will appreciate it. If you prioritize your children, you'll almost always be in a good spot.