Everything you need to know about a Contested Divorce in Texas
According to psychologists and psychiatrists, out of 43 life events, the death of a spouse is the most stressful. Coming in second is going through a divorce. This is true even when the parties have an uncontested divorce and can agree on all the issues. The stress is compounded when the divorce is contested, which means the parties cannot agree on one or more of the issues. A contested divorce can take much longer, inflicting a higher emotional toll on all parties involved. It can also be financially draining, and physically exhausting having to make court appearances on a regular basis. If a judge invokes standing orders to cease all non-essential financial transactions, you could feel like you’re stuck in limbo. Get in touch with an attorney who can help make the process less lengthy and stressful.
There are several steps involved in the divorce process, and the courts will urge the parties to come to an agreement on one or all of the issues at every step along the way. At any time during the process, the parties can settle their disputes and come to an agreement. If that is not possible, the court will resolve the issues for them. A contested divorce lawyer can help you fight for the issues you refuse to compromise on, like who gets primary custody, who gets the pets, who can continue to live in the house, dividing assets, and property.
Filing the Divorce Petition and Notice to the Opposing Party
The first step is for one party to file a petition in the county of residence asking for a divorce. According to Texas Family Code, Section 6.001, the petition does not need to state grounds for a divorce, but can simply claim the marriage has become “insupportable” and there is no chance of reconciliation. Texas is a “fault” state. Although it also allows for no fault divorces, one party can allege that the other caused the breakup. If the filing party wants to allege grounds for divorce, Section 6.002 to 6.007 recognizes six grounds for divorce:
- Cruelty- verbal and physical abuse.
- The other party has been convicted of a felony.
- The couple has been living apart for three years without cohabitation.
- One party has been confined to a mental institution for three years and there appears no hope of the person ever recovering.
At the time the petition is filed, there are standing orders that go into effect. The orders vary by county but some are required by Texas Family Code, Section 6.502, and include prohibiting either party from selling or depleting assets. A protective order may be included if requested.
The divorce petition must be served on the opposing party either by mail or in person. The opposing party is not required to file an answer.
Hearing for Temporary Orders
At the request of one party or on the court’s own motion, the court will hold a hearing and make temporary orders regarding issues like child custody, visitation and child or spousal support and other relevant issues that cannot wait until the end of the divorce process. The hearing generally occurs within 30 days of the filing of the petition. Even if the two parties embattled in a contested divorce cannot come to an agreement regarding these things, a judge will decide and grant temporary orders as they see fit.
Discovery: Objecting Requests
Each party has the right to obtain personal information about the other one’s finances, property that is owned and other detailed information. All responses must be provided under penalty of perjury.
- Interrogatories, which are written questions the other party must answer.
- Requests for admissions, similar to interrogatories but more concise and specifically asking the party to admit or deny certain facts.
- Request for production of documents, which can be for bank account statements, deeds to land and any document relevant to the divorce process.
- Depositions, which requires the party to answer, in person and under oath, questions posed by opposing counsel.
- In a contested divorce, one or both parties often object to any of the discovery requests presented by the other party. If the issues cannot be resolved, the court will make decisions and issues orders which must be followed.
Mediation is a process where the parties meet with a neutral third party who is appointed by the court to work to resolve issues. In some counties, mediation is required by the court. In others, it is encouraged but not mandated. Most Harris County judges require both parties to attend mediation before the temporary orders hearing if custody is involved and a mediation for Final Orders. If the parties are still unable to reach a settlement agreement, the case proceeds to trial.
Texas Family Code, Section 6.703, allows for either party to request a jury trial. Some issues decided by a jury are binding. For example, Texas is the only state where child custody and visitation arrangements can be decided by a jury. Juries can also decide the value of property, who gets what, and whether one party was at fault, causing the divorce.
Other issues can only be decided by a judge. Only a family Court judge in Texas can enforce a court order for child custody, child support, or visitation. Adoption and paternity orders can only be determined by a judge in Texas as well, not a jury.
Final Divorce Decree
Once either the judge or jury make the final decisions for the divorcing couple, the court will issue its final divorce decree. Either party can appeal, but must follow the final orders during the pendency of the appeal. If a Temporary Order is appealed, both parties do not have to follow the Judge’s order that was appealed.
Contact an Experienced Contested Divorce Lawyer
If you’re facing a divorce that will likely be highly contested, you need to hire an attorney with experience. A contested divorce lawyer who has represented clients in complex divorce cases and custody battles can mean a world of difference to you in Court. Call today to schedule a free case evaluation with the Law Offices of Frank E. Mann P.C. Frank E. Mann has over 30 years of experience as a family law attorney in Houston, Texas and is ready to help you get everything you need out of your divorce.