When couples divorce in Texas, they must follow procedural rules and regulations or risk having their case dismissed. Most of the procedural rules that apply to divorces filed in the state are found in the Texas Family Code and Texas Code of Civil Procedure. These state laws define eligibility, notice to the other party, deadlines, waiting periods, and documents to be filed. Each county also sets rules regarding filing fees, hearing schedules and court procedures that apply only to the divorces filed in that county. Finally, some judges set rules that apply only to hearings in their courtrooms.
A Texas judge can only grant divorces between people who have a connection to the state as defined by state law. The Texas Family Code requires that at least one spouse live in Texas for at least six months prior to filing for divorce there. The divorce papers must be filed in the county where at least one of the spouses has lived for at least 90 days before filing. Military members and their spouses meet this requirement as long as the military member has been stationed in Texas for at least six months and at a particular military installation for at least 90 days, even if the couple claims another state as their legal residence.
Filing for Divorce
The divorce case begins when one spouse files an Original Petition for Divorce. According to the Texas Family Code, this document must provide information about the parties, their property, the marriage, grounds for divorce, and any special requests, such as a name change or restraining order. In Texas, the filing party may cite the no-fault ground of insupportability as the reason for the divorce, meaning the marriage has broken down and cannot be repaired. Other available grounds include cruelty, abandonment, adultery, conviction of a felony, living apart or confinement to a mental hospital. In a fault-based divorce, if the filing party proves at trial that the other spouse's misconduct caused the divorce, the judge may favor the innocent party when dividing the couple's property. If there are children of the marriage who are under the age of 18 (including a current pregnancy), disabled or still in high school, the divorce petition must include a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship that will ultimately result in orders regarding child support, visitation and custody.
Notifying the Other Party
The party filing for a Texas divorce must present the Original Petition for Divorce and a case information sheet to the court clerk, then have the other spouse notified in one of two ways. A sheriff or process server may formally serve the papers on the other party and then file a Proof of Service with the court. Alternatively, the person who files for divorce may mail or hand-deliver a copy of the petition to the other spouse. In this case, the receiving spouse must sign a Waiver of Service in front of a notary and the document must be filed with the court.
Texas rules require a 60-day waiting period before a divorce can be granted, except in cases involving domestic violence where the filing party has a protective order against the other spouse or the other spouse has been convicted of domestic violence. During the waiting period, the court expects the spouses to exchange information and attempt to work out a settlement on the issues of property division, child support, visitation and other issues. In many counties, spouses are ordered to use a neutral third party, called a mediator, to help them resolve their disputes. If the spouses cannot reach an agreement on all of the issues related to the divorce, they must request a final hearing before a judge. Most counties require divorcing spouses to submit information before the hearing regarding their income, expenses and proposed parenting plans.
Finalizing the Divorce
In Texas, all divorces are finalized after a hearing, but the procedure varies according to whether the parties have reached an agreement on all of the issues. If the divorcing couple reaches an agreement, they both sign an agreed upon Final Decree of Divorce. In this case, only one party needs to appear at a brief, uncontested hearing to provide testimony. If the judge determines that all requirements have been met, the divorce will be granted on that date and the judge will sign the divorce decree. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, either of them may request a trial in which a judge or jury will decide the issues after hearing evidence from both sides. Afterward, the final ruling must be written up as a Final Decree of Divorce for the judge to sign. The divorce may be granted on the date of the hearing or when the decree is signed. After a divorce is granted, neither party may marry another person until at least 30 days have passed, although they are free to remarry each other at any time.