A simple step-by-step guide to getting your divorce started in Texas without an attorney.
Evaluate Your Need for an Attorney
Most divorces, no matter how small or complicated the issues, hit a legal or procedural roadblock at some point. It is very important to meet with an attorney, even for an initial consultation to discuss whether or not you need their guidance for your divorce. Even if you think the issues are not complicated an attorney can point out issues you've overlooked or provide additional protection you may not realize you need. Keep in mind that divorce is listed as one of the top three major stressors in a person's life, even topping death or loss of a loved-one. It is especially critical that you meet with an attorney during a divorce, as people tend to be either overly-emotional (either sad or angry) or numb by the time they have resolved to file. Be honest with yourself when evaluating whether or not you want an attorney, as a wrong decision can be harmful to you and your case. Be aware that you cannot act as an objective third-party during this especially stressful time.
Find Out Where The Courthouse Is and What the Filing Fees Are
If you decide to file for divorce on your own, then you will be representing yourself, Pro Se. The first step for filing for divorce in Texas is to draft an Original Petition for Divorce and file it with the district clerk at the court in the county in which you live.It is probably helpful to do some online research to discover where your civil courthouse is located in your county. Each county has a district clerk who handles filing for civil cases, including family law cases. Contact the district clerk in the courthouse for your county and ask her how much the filing fees are for a divorce. (In my experience they run around $300-$400). It may be helpful to let her know that you are representing yourself and need information regarding filling for divorce. Although a District Clerk cannot give legal advice, oftentimes, the county itself will offer a free law library and/or free legal forms and documents for Pro Se parties. One helpful website is www.texaslawhelp.org.
Find Out If You Are Eligible for Filing in Texas and in that County
The next step is to ensure that you are eligible to file in the state of Texas and in that county. This is known as jurisdiction. In Texas, to ensure the court has jurisdiction of your case, you need to have lived in Texas for the last 6 months and have been a resident of the county for the last 90 days. If either party has lived in the county for the last 90 days, then you can file. Keep in mind that there may be several exceptions to this rule, for example, military service members can file where their designated domicile is located (typically their "home base"), even if they have not lived there in the last 90 days. This will also be important for your pleadings as you will need to indicate in your Original Petition for Divorce which party is asserting they have met the requirements for jurisdiction in Texas.
Draft and File Your Original Petition for Divorce
Once you have ensured you can file in Texas, know the county you are filing in, know where the courthouse you are going to file in is located and the filing fees, then you are ready to draft your Original Petition for Divorce. Assuming you obtained a standard form to model your Original Petition for Divorce, it should also include: your name and last three digits of your driver's license and social security number, your spouse's name (no need for DL or SSN), a section establishing your right to file in TX in the county you're filing in (domicile) - be sure to list the party who meets those qualifications - and how process should be served on the other party (whether by process server or if your spouse will be signing a Waiver of Service). File the petition with the district clerk and pay the filing fee. The clerk will issue a cause number for your case, which you should write down. Also, be sure to ask for a file-marked copy for your files.
Important Items to Keep Track of Including the Statutory Waiting Period
Be sure to mark the date you filed for divorce (the file-mark) on your calendar. Texas has a 60-day waiting period which begins on the date you file for divorce and ends on the sixtieth day (including weekends). Keep in mind that it is a statutory waiting-period and a court cannot grant your divorce any time before the 60th day, even if everything is agreed-to and your paperwork is in order (with a few exceptions). Also, be sure to keep the cause number close at hand (your cause number will be listed at the very top of your pleadings above the heading section), as it will come in handy if you ever need to request a copy of any document that has been filed in your case.Finally, your spouse has a deadline to respond to your divorce petition only after they have been served with a file-marked copy of the divorce petition in accordance with the proper procedures in Texas.
Your Divorce Petition is Filed - What Next?
Now that your Petition for Divorce is filed, the waiting-period clock has begun and you must proceed with sending your spouse notice by serving your spouse with the paperwork. Depending on the complexity of your case and the unique issues you have, you have several choices for how to serve the other party with the paperwork. At this point you have started your divorce but you may need to consult with an attorney to decide how best to proceed in putting your spouse on notice.Please keep in mind that the above is only a rough outline for how to file for divorce in Texas and should not be considered legal advice. Your own family law and divorce issues can change quickly -as does the law -and you may or may not be able to follow this procedure.
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