A contested divorce in Houston occurs when the spouses cannot reach an agreement on one or more issues related to the divorce. Consider the entire divorce process a business transaction. This approach can make a difference between spending a few hundred dollars with an uncontested divorce to spending over ten thousand for a highly contested matter. The contested divorce process includes several steps which are described in detail below.
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Filing an Original Petition for Divorce
The first step toward the dissolution of marriage in Texas is filing an Original Petition for Divorce in the county where you or your spouse have resided for the previous 90 days. Additionally, one party must have lived in Texas for the past 6 months to qualify for a Texas divorce. An Original Petition is the legal document that tells the court of your intention to seek a contested divorce. Once you have filed for divorce, the next step is to notify the other party that a divorce suit is pending. This is usually done through formal service of process by a constable or process server. The other party will receive what is called a service of citation, which informs them that they have been served and of any impending hearings or trial dates. At this point, it is possible one party or the other will request certain restraining orders and ask that a temporary hearing be set to resolve issues while the divorce is pending.
Temporary Restraining Order – TRO
Once a party has filed for a divorce, the next step may be requesting a temporary restraining order. A temporary restraining order in Texas divorce law is standard and is a normal part of the divorce process. The purpose is to make sure that both parties “do the right thing” in regards to each other, the children of the marriage, and the property of the marriage while the divorce is pending. A TRO prevents one party from making major changes that are not agreed to by their spouse. A temporary restraining order should not be confused with a protective order which addresses family violence. Temporary restraining order language is standard and mutual to both parties and does not imply that anyone has done anything wrong.
If a temporary orders hearing is requested, it is typically held within two to four weeks of the filing of the request for temporary orders. At the temporary orders hearing, the judge will address issues including possession and access to the children, child support, use of property, and payment of debts during the course of the divorce proceedings. The temporary orders will be in place until your contested divorce is finalized.
Discovery and Property Division
The time between the temporary hearing and the final trial is often considered the “discovery” phase. Discovery is the process through which each side learns information from the other. Discovery does not occur in every divorce proceeding, but it can be a useful tool in acquiring information about the other side. For example, during discovery, each side may learn the other’s position concerning division of property, the existence and value of the marital estate, or custody/possession of the children or income for the purpose of establishing child support. Discovery includes written discovery, such as interrogatories or requests for production of documents and oral depositions.
Just because a divorce is contested doesn’t mean it can’t be resolved by the agreement of the parties. In fact, mediation is so frequently successful that many family law courts require that parties attend mediation before the Court will hear a final trial on the merits. Mediation is a process where a neutral third party, typically someone who is very well versed in family law, facilitates negotiations between the parties in an effort to come to a resolution on all issues. Each party attends mediation with his or her attorney and the mediator helps the attorneys and the parties negotiate an agreement. Mediation allows the parties to come to agreements that may otherwise not be available in court and has a very high success rate in all Houston contested divorces. Once a mediated settlement agreement is signed, it is binding on all parties and enforceable by the Court.
Settling in mediation, instead of taking a contested divorce to trial, gives both parties an opportunity to have input on how child custody, property division, and all other issues are addressed. Handing the entire case to a Judge may not have the desired result for either party. Remember, the Judge will only hear a case for a very limited amount of time, so it is often in the best interest of both parties to make some concession and settle the case without the need for a bench or a jury Trial.
The Ramos Law Group has extensive experience in successfully negotiating favorable mediated settlement agreements for our clients; however, the attorneys at the Ramos Law Group also understand that parties should never agree to an unfavorable offer simply because they do not want to risk trial.
Once mediation has been attempted and/or the discovery process is complete, the case will be set for final trial. Typically, trials are held in front of a judge who will decide the contested divorce issues involving children and property division. The Texas Family Code provides that a party is entitled to a trial before a jury in certain circumstances involving child custody and characterization and valuation of property. A request for such a jury must be made in a timely fashion prior to final trial but it is always an option for a party to consider. Most Houston contested divorce judges, as well as the judges of surrounding counties, prefer that the parties attend mediation in an attempt to settle their issues without the need of court intervention.
Timeframe for a Contested Divorce
There is no set amount of time; it really depends on the parties involved and the circumstances of the case. For an uncontested Houston divorce, the total time from filing to finalization could be as short as 61 days, the state mandated waiting period for a divorce. For a contested divorce trial, it depends on how litigious the parties are, the county that the divorce was filed in, and how busy the district court is at the time of filing. A contested divorce may average 6 months to a year. The divorce lawyers at Ramos Law Group always aim to complete the process as efficiently as possible.