Although it may seem almost commonplace these days, going through a divorce is still a stressful event. After all, no one goes into a marriage thinking about getting divorced. But, sometimes, a breakdown in your marriage occurs, and it’s time to go your separate ways.
You might be wondering how the divorce process works. How do you file a divorce petition? How long does a divorce take? Does a divorce petition expire in Texas? These are important questions to ask. I recommend that you get with an experienced family law attorney to help you throughout the process.
First, though, let me help you by answering a common question I get asked of whether a divorce petition can expire in Texas.
What is a Divorce Petition, and How Does it Work?
Known as the “Original Petition for Divorce” in Texas, the divorce petition is the document that needs to be filed to start any divorce proceedings. This document helps to identify things such as:
- Personal information
- Dates of the marriage
- Children (or no children)
- Grounds for divorce
- Texas residency or other jurisdiction
- Whether a protective order is also required
- Property belonging to each spouse that is not necessarily part of what’s considered “marital property.”
Filing the divorce petition can be accomplished by either spouse, as it only takes one party to do this. Whoever files the paperwork is known as the “petitioner”, and the person receiving the petition is known as the “respondent.”
The petitioner must serve the respondent the divorce petition, except in very specific situations, which I will outline below.
The initial court paperwork that the respondent will be served can include:
- The “citation” — which can be any type of summons to appear in court
- The “petition” — a copy of the form used by the “petitioner” to file for divorce
- Any other paperwork that was used to support the evidence in the divorce petition
If both spouses are in agreement about the divorce, then a special “Waiver of Service” needs to be signed in front of a notary by each spouse and returned to the court so that no papers are served.
How Is the Respondent Served with Divorce Papers?
In Texas, the petitioner cannot serve the respondent with the divorce petition themselves, nor should you ever try to do this. The respondent is considered to be served when:
- The paperwork is delivered in person by a private process server, a member of law enforcement, such as a sheriff or other law official. The person who serves the Respondent will file a “Return of Service” with the Court evidencing that they have effectuated service. This can take anywhere from 5-14 days or more to be completed.
- A “Motion for Substituted Service” can be filed if the private process server or law enforcement cannot locate the respondent. This allows the Petitioner to serve the Respondent at their last known address by handing the petition to anyone at that address who is over the age of 16, or by posting the petition on an entry gate, front door, or garage at the address the Respondent is suspected to be located at.
- After an exhaustive search has been made, if the Respondent still cannot be located, the petition can be published in the newspaper as well as any statewide public info websites. This is called service by publication.
Waiting for an Answer to the Divorce Petition or Other Court Case
In Texas, there is a 60 day so-called “cooling down period” after divorce paperwork has been filed. During these 60 days, the judge is prohibited from finalizing a divorce, even if it is agreed to by the parties.
In a nutshell, Texas law says the respondent has until 10:00 a.m. on the Monday following the expiration of 20 days from the date that the respondent is served. If the 20th day is a Monday, the deadline is the following Monday. If there is no response within that time period, the Petitioner may pursue a default judgment against the Respondent.
So, Can the Divorce or Other Family Law Petition Expire?
The answer to your question is that, technically, yes, a divorce or other family law matter petition can expire in Texas. If the judge hears nothing from either spouse for a long period of time, they do have the right to dismiss the filing and let the petition “expire.” This is called a dismissal for want of prosecution or “DWOP.”
If this happens, then new paperwork will have to be filed if still needed, and the whole process will be restarted. This is why having an experienced lawyer work with you can help you make informed decisions during each step of the process, or to reinstate your case if it has been dismissed.
Getting You Through Divorce or Other Family Law Cases From Start to Finish
I’ve been serving the family legal needs of Texas residents for the past decade. I specialize in family law so that I can provide timely and expert support in sensitive legal matters involving families.
I can help you get through your divorce or your other family law related case and defend your rights in the Texas Family Court system. Join the hundreds of other clients I have helped in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, and Harris County with their divorce proceedings.
Call my offices at 281-944-5485 or 979-267-7660 to discuss your divorce. I’ll make sure your divorce petition does not expire and that you can arrive at the best possible outcome for you and your family.