According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Texas enjoys one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. For every 1,000 people living in Texas, there are 1.4 divorces. This rate has stayed consistent between 2019 and 2021.
But with a population of almost 30 million, even this low rate means there is a high volume of divorces in the state. Each year, about 30,000 divorces are filed in the Lone Star State.
As regular of an occurrence as divorce filings are, the divorce hearing process itself can be a mystery. Take a look at this important information to help you understand how to navigate the legal divorce process in Texas.
A Break Down of the Divorce Hearing Process in Texas
If you are facing divorce, knowing what to expect can help you better prepare and make for a less stressful experience.
Filing for Divorce and Initial Hearings
You can file for divorce in Texas as long as either you or your spouse has lived in Texas for the last six months. Paperwork requesting a divorce can be filed in any county where at least one of you has lived for 90 days immediately preceding the filing, and either spouse can initiate a divorce.
For example, suppose that you and your spouse lived together in Fort Bend County for the past five years. Four months ago, you packed up and moved back home with your parents in Ohio after an argument. Your spouse continued to live in the marital home in Fort Bend.
In this situation, either you or your spouse can file for divorce in Fort Bend County based on your spouse continuing to live there. You can even file for divorce in Fort Bend County while living mostly out of state.
Temporary Orders Hearings
When you initially file for divorce, you can request the court to enter temporary orders. As the name implies, these orders are meant to last until the divorce is finalized. They are meant to give direction to you and your spouse as you navigate the rest of the divorce process.
These temporary orders can change throughout the process based on your needs and your spouse’s actions. Some of the topics that the court can address through temporary orders include:
- Establishing with whom your children should live and setting a visitation schedule
- Issuing a child support order for one parent or the other
- Issuing a temporary spousal support order
- Awarding one spouse the temporary use of assets, like the home or vehicles
- Directing you and your spouse not to destroy marital property or harass each other
For some judges, these and other similar orders are granted as a matter of course without any evidence. In other courts, you may need to testify to the judge about the need for these and other orders. Any testimony you provide at such a hearing is limited to the orders you request and why you need them.
In situations involving alleged abuse, you may receive temporary orders after an “ex parte” hearing. This is a hearing where the other spouse is not able to be present or contest your requests. These “ex parte” orders can be entered to address urgent safety concerns. But they are designed to last only a very limited amount of time.
After you file for divorce and serve the other party with a copy of your divorce petition, the next hearings that take place are status hearings. It can seem like not much occurs during these hearings, but they are a crucial tool that the court uses to maintain control over your case.
There are three main issues that typically come up during these hearings, including:
- A schedule of deadlines
- Narrowing of the issues
- Settlement conferences or mediation
This is where hiring an expert Texas divorce lawyer can be vital. Your family law attorney can address all of these issues on your behalf.
Scheduling Future Hearings and Deadlines
One of the key tasks that you must complete as part of a divorce is discovery. Discovery means exchanging information with your spouse about your finances and assets. Depending on how much property you have, this process can take several weeks to several months.
The court will want to set deadlines for completing the discovery process and for when the divorce case as a whole should wrap up. Future court hearings may be set at this stage. Your divorce attorney will keep track of all these dates to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines.
Narrowing the Issues in a Dispute
The court will also want to know at this stage what issues you and your spouse disagree with each other about. In other words, you will need to narrow the issues in dispute.
For example, perhaps you and your spouse agree on how the marital property should be divided but not on child custody or parenting time. This helps the court learn what issues to address in the final divorce hearing.
Orders for Mediation
If there are any issues you and your spouse disagree about, the court may direct that you visit with a mediator outside of court. The mediator’s role is to foster discussion between you and your spouse. This step helps them see if there is an agreement the two of you can reach on contested issues.
For example, if you and your spouse can’t agree on a parenting time schedule, the mediator will try to work with both of you and see if you can reach an agreement through discussion and negotiation.
There is never any obligation that you reach a mediated agreement. However, if you can, it will reduce the number of issues you and your spouse need to resolve. This means that your divorce may wrap up sooner.
As you prepare to conclude the divorce hearing process, you and your attorney may sit down and talk with your spouse and their attorney. These discussions are called settlement conferences and are meant to address any remaining issues in dispute.
Settlement conferences are not court hearings; no record is made of them. Instead, you and your spouse attempt to reach an agreement on any unresolved matters. It is your final opportunity to reach an agreement before submitting the issue to the court to decide.
As with mediation, you are not required to reach an agreement if you do not want to.
Final Hearing and Divorce Trial
As long as at least 60 days have passed since you first filed for divorce, your case has the ability to conclude. It’s likely your divorce case will last much longer, especially if children are involved, but you must meet a minimum of 60 days before a final order can be issued.
During a final court hearing, you will likely have to testify again, even if there are no contested issues. At the very least, the court will want to verify basic information about you and your marriage. The judge will also need to ensure that there are legal grounds to grant the divorce.
In a contested divorce, you will testify to support your requests for any matters you and your spouse could not agree on. Your attorney will question you and your spouse’s attorney will also have an opportunity to challenge the statements you provide. Your spouse will also have the ability to present information before the divorce court so a judge can hear evidence.
After a judge reviews evidence, the court will enter final orders and pronounce you and your spouse divorced. Certain court orders, like child custody, spousal support, and child support, are subject to change as your circumstances change over the years.
Your Dedicated Texas Divorce Law Firm
If you are thinking about divorce, the future may seem uncertain. We recommend finding help from advocates who have navigated the divorce hearing process and stepped inside family court with many clients.
The family law attorneys at Parker & Aguilar will work hard to protect your interests and help the process go as smoothly as possible. At each stage, you can trust that you will be prepared for what lies ahead and assisted by a competent and compassionate divorce attorney.
We currently support clients in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, and Matagorda County. If you live in one of these counties, reach out to us for immediate support.
You can reach our offices at 979-267-7660 (Angleton office) or 281-944-5485 (Sugar Land office) to speak with one of our helpful attorneys about your divorce situation. We are prepared to serve on your behalf.